Eric Lynn drops congressional bid in Pinellas, will run for state House

Eric Lynn, 37, is a former Defense Department official.
Eric Lynn, 37, is a former Defense Department official.
Published May 4, 2016

Eric Lynn is dropping his bid to succeed U.S. Rep. David Jolly and instead will run for state House in the Democratic-leaning district to be vacated by Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

The sudden shakeup in Tampa Bay politics is good news for Charlie Crist, who now appears likely to win a congressional seat with only token opposition, but not so good news for Democrats who will see a potentially expensive and bruising primary for state House. St. Petersburg attorney Ben Diamond, 37, had already announced his candidacy to succeed Dudley and received a string of high-profile Democratic endorsements.

"After Rep. Dwight Dudley's surprise decision not to seek re-election in my home district, many community members asked me to run for state House District 68 to carry on the legacy of great Pinellas leaders like Speaker Peter Wallace, Commissioner Charlie Justice and Rep. Dudley," Lynn, 37, said in a statement.

He said he was "proud of the excellent campaign we ran for Congressional District 13 here in Pinellas County, which is projected to elect our first Democratic Congressman in over 50 years. With my decision to run for state House, Charlie Crist and I will forego spending almost a million dollars each against each other in a Democratic primary."

House District 68, covering northeast St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Feather Sound, is generally expected to remain in Democratic hands. President Barack Obama won that district comfortably twice, though Republican Joseph Bensmihen, a Palm Beach County candidate for Congress who recently moved to Pinellas, has filed to run.

The primary is likely to be expensive and volatile, pitting Lynn versus Diamond, two well-connected Democrats with strong money-raising ability.

"I'm a fighter and I think I'm going to have the opportunity in this campaign to prove that I'm going to fight for the people of this district in Tallahassee," said Diamond, who grew up in St. Petersburg and, after working for former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, moved back in 2013.

Diamond, the grandson of late U.S. Rep. Dante Fascell who represented Miami-Dade from 1955 to 1993, has written checks or raised money for many Democratic candidates and has a lot of friends among Democratic elites. His endorsements for state House include Sink, state party chairwoman Allison Tant, incoming Florida House Democratic leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, former Sen. Bob Graham, Pinellas Democratic chairwoman Susan McGrath, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Ken Welch, and City Council members Karl Nurse, Darden Rice and Jim Kennedy.

But Lynn, a former Defense Department official and Obama campaign staffer, has plenty of support as well and excited many party activists who preferred him in the congressional primary over former Republican Gov. Crist. What's more, Lynn had about $625,000 in his congressional campaign account, which can be shifted into a political committee to promote his Florida House candidacy.

"In the state House, I will work hard to improve education — by making it equal for all children; to improve health care — by expanding Medicaid in Florida; and to honor and protect our veterans," said Lynn, who grew up in St. Petersburg and moved back to the city last year after working in Washington.

Democratic consultant Tom Alte stepped down from Lynn's congressional campaign, as his firm shifted to help Diamond win the state House seat.

St. Petersburg attorney Peter Wallace, who represented that district and served as the last Democratic House speaker, endorsed Lynn on Tuesday.

"He has the values and drive that it takes to succeed in the Legislature," Wallace said. "As a St. Petersburg native, he understands this community well, he will serve this community well, and I am confident that he will be a tireless champion for the people of Pinellas County in Tallahassee."

Dudley, who is expected to run for county judge, said he did not encourage anyone to run for the seat and that he will not endorse.

The 13th Congressional District is currently represented by Republican Jolly, who opted to run for U.S. Senate instead of re-election after state lawmakers re-drew the district lines to make it strongly favor a Democrat.

Without Lynn in the race, Crist still faces a primary challenge from an obscure candidate, Donald Hackett Jr., whose website says the Pinellas Democratic Party "only recognizes Professional Incorporated bribe taking Candidates such as Eric Lynn and Charlie Crist." Several little-known Republicans — Mark Bircher, Paul DeCailly and Sharon Russ — also are running.

Crist released his own statement after Lynn's announcement: "I'm grateful to Eric Lynn for his public service and I'm also proud of my friend Ben Diamond, another great public servant. With today's news, Pinellas County now has two great and qualified candidates in Florida House District 68, and I trust the voters to nominate the candidate that will best fight for fairness, great schools, our environment, and new high-wage jobs. Our party will be unified in November."

Contact Adam Smith at Follow @AdamSmithTimes.