In a move that could help clear the way for former Gov. Charlie Crist to head to Capitol Hill, his chief opponent for a Pinellas County congressional seat dropped out of the race Tuesday and will instead run for the state House.
Eric Lynn, a former Pentagon official who was battling Crist in the Democratic primary in the newly redrawn Congressional District 13, issued a statement saying he will run for a legislative seat being vacated by state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.
“Today begins a fresh start in a new race with new opportunities,” Lynn said in the statement. “I am 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 (the) state House, Charlie Crist and I will forego spending almost a million dollars each against each other in a Democratic primary. I am honored to help ensure that both state House District 68 and Congressional District 13 elect strong Democrats who will fight for the good of the community and the values that we share.”
Congressional District 13 is widely expected to elect a Democrat this year after being redrawn as part of a legal battle about whether existing districts violated the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” standards approved by voters in 2010. Incumbent Republican David Jolly decided to run for the U.S. Senate instead of seeking another term in District 13.
Crist, a St. Petersburg resident, entered the congressional race last fall after losing a 2014 bid to return to the governor’s mansion as a Democrat. While Crist has drawn much of the attention in the race, Lynn had raised nearly $753,000 as of March 31 and received support from local officials such as St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
As of March 31, Crist had raised about $766,000 for the race, according to the Federal Elections Commission website. That dwarfed the amount raised by Republican candidate Mark Bircher, who had brought in $3,501 and loaned $15,000 to his campaign.
Lynn’s announcement that he will shift races came after Dudley decided against seeking a third term in state House District 68. Also jumping into the state House race last week was St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond. Republican Joseph “JB” Bensmihen also has opened a campaign account for the legislative race.
Crist, who was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican and ran unsuccessfully as an independent for the U.S. Senate in 2010, issued a statement Tuesday that avoided taking sides in the state House race.
“I’m grateful to Eric Lynn for his public service and I’m also proud of my friend Ben Diamond, another great public servant,” Crist said. “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.”
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida