There are more political questions than answers in the aftermath of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling overturning the congressional districts, and in Tampa Bay one of the biggest is what happens to the 13th Congressional District.
That's the district currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who is likely to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. This district is really the birthplace of the Republican rise to ascendancy in Florida and the Southeast, and a host of credible Democratic candidates are closely and seriously looking at running for that seat. And Republican Pinellas politicians eager to run?
Mostly we hear crickets.
"I've had a lot of friends and other people call me and urge me to consider this, so I am considering it. But I think it's very early to get into a decision-making process because we don't even know where the lines are drawn at this point," said former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. "I would say it would be some time before I really take a hard look at it."
Most observers expect the Legislature will redraw the lines so that what is now a swing district becomes either decidedly Democratic-leaning or overwhelmingly Democratic as it takes in southern Pinellas neighborhoods that currently are represented by Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor.
Our guess is that Baker ultimately won't run — he'd be more interested in serving in the Jeb Bush administration or running for governor — but he can afford to wait a long time to make up his mind because no other Republican with stature is likely to step up. Interested Democrats — current candidate Eric Lynn, former Gov. Charlie Crist, County Commissioner Ken Welch, state Rep. Dwight Dudley, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, to name a few — don't have that luxury.
The irony of Republicans potentially writing off the Pinellas district is rich, given its history. It has had plenty of different boundaries and numbers attached to it over the years, but it is more or less the district represented by Republican C.W. Bill Young from 1971 until his death in 2013, and before that by St. Petersburg Republican William C. Cramer from 1955 to 1971. "The founder of the Republican Party of Florida" is how Florida GOP Chairman Carole Jean Jordan in 2003 described Cramer, the first Florida Republican elected to Congress since Reconstruction.
The senate race
So we now have three to five credible candidates for Florida's Republican U.S. Senate nomination — U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, all-but-announced U.S. Rep. Jolly of Indian Shores, former defense contractor Todd Wilcox of Orlando, and probably U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of the Panhandle. None of these is a political giant or heavy favorite, but if we had to pick a frontrunner it would be DeSantis.
The race appears wide open, but in a crowded GOP primary field of largely unknown candidates, I'd sure prefer to be the conservative candidate who also happens to have the most money. It's no sure thing DeSantis winds up with the most money (Miami billionaire Norman Braman could single-handedly buy the nomination for Lopez-Cantera), but he has significant support from conservative, national groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, and he has assembled an A-list team of Republican bundlers.
This race probably will boil down to three or four candidates vying to be the strongest alternative to DeSantis. We have yet to see the guy on the stump, but quite a few Republicans say DeSantis would be a tea party disaster in the general. Think Todd Akin or Sharron Angle.
That doesn't seem especially likely with a Navy JAG who graduated Yale and Harvard Law. Tampa Bay Republicans who have contributed to DeSantis include former Gov. Bob Martinez, developer Brent Sembler and attorney Bob Grammig.
Jolly probably polls the strongest now, but that's mainly because he is from Tampa Bay, which has the most GOP primary voters. Rivals already are whispering that the Pinellas Republican is too liberal (in favor of same-sex marriage, voted against House Republican budget because it revamped Medicare), but for the time being DeSantis seems like the one to beat.
Of course, Bill McCollum could dramatically change the landscape if he jumped in. His name ID alone could be hard to beat in a crowded primary.
Hillary Clinton's campaign released the names of top bundlers, and Florida is well represented. Florida "Hillblazers," who have raised $100,000 or more in primary election contributions since Clinton launched her campaign: Mitchell W. Berger, Elaine and Gerald Schuster, Alexander P. Heckler, Christopher G. Korge, Cynthia and Ira Leesfield, John Morgan, Jared Moskowitz and Michael Moskowitz, Abigail Pollak and Benjamin Pollara.