Obama endorses Kriseman: At 11th hour, the mayor nabs the Holy Grail of endorsements (Updated)

The support of one Barack Obama, of course.

This post has been updated to include comment from former Mayor Rick Baker, Kriseman's most formidable opponent.

click to enlarge Obama endorses Kriseman: At 11th hour, the mayor nabs the Holy Grail of endorsements (Updated)
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Beleaguered Democrats are accustomed to waking up to awful news — whether it's a brewing gathering of Nazis, the Trump administration's latest insane machinations or, in the case of Florida Dems, another poll showing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman trailing former Mayor Rick Baker in the polls leading up to Tuesday's six-way mayoral election. 

Friday was different, though.

Kriseman's campaign as well as the Florida Democratic Party released statements heralding the trump card, so to speak, of endorsements: former President Barack Obama.

In a written statement that reportedly constitutes only his second mayoral endorsement since he left office (the first was the Los Angeles mayor's race) and his third overall since then (the French presidential election was the other), Obama cited Kriseman's progressive leadership on fighting economic inequality, embracing diversity (as an early supporter of LGBT equality) and pushing for climate change preparedness.

“As mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman has taken on big challenges to move St. Pete forward” said former President Obama i his statement. “From raising the minimum wage and fighting for equality, to bold leadership on climate change, Rick was a great ally on the priorities of my administration. I strongly endorse Rick Kriseman as the only choice for continued progress for St. Petersburg.”

The nod underscores the importance of the race to local and state Democrats for whom Donald Trump's Florida win was a gut punch — as is Kriseman's consistent trailing in local polls. While the mayor's race is ostensibly nonpartisan, party politics aren't just subtle undertones as they are in many municipal races. Baker, a Republican who appeals to many of the heavily Democrat-leaning black residents on the city's south side, has strong backing from Republican donors and bundlers. Kriseman, a Democrat, has sought to tie Baker to Trump and his divisive rhetoric — and has enjoyed extensive support from the Democratic Party. Given St. Petersburg's reputation as a Dem stronghold, to lose the mayor's office here would be crushing, even if the story is more complicated than R vs. D.

At this point, they are hoping to push Kriseman over the finish line Tuesday. 

There are six candidates on the ballot (the others being Anthony Cates III, Paul Congemi, Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter and Jesse Nevel). If no one grabs more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a November runoff. Baker supporters have said there's a good chance Baker will cross the finish line Tuesday (albeit less often in the wake of Trump's reaction to Charlottesville and Baker's unwillingness to condemn the president by name). 

Friday's news could help keep that from happening.

Though polls suggest Kriseman and Baker enjoy roughly the same share of the black vote (~40 percent) Obama remains incredibly popular among that population; some 92 percent of the city's black residents say they view him favorably, Politico's Marc Caputo, who broke Friday's news, wrote. The clear association between Obama and Kriseman, coming from the man himself, could tip the scales in Kriseman's favor.

However, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections records show more than half of the mail ballots sent to the city's voters have been returned.

Kriseman, of course, welcomed the bump. 

“I am incredibly honored to have the support of President Barack Obama as we continue our work of moving St. Pete forward” said Mayor Kriseman. “President Obama's leadership had a positive impact on our city. His historic election inspired us. His governance helped us to rebound from a great recession, made healthcare more available and affordable, and expanded opportunity and equality for countless Americans. From ending veteran homelessness to combating climate change, it has been my privilege to champion his priorities and apply them at the local level.”

Nevertheless, Baker continues to campaign hard south of Central Avenue. On Friday, his campaign says, he will be waving signs at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 22nd Avenue South, then on Saturday he will greet canvassers at his campaign office at 2400 Dr. MLK St. S.

After this post was published, Baker's campaign replied with the following statement criticizing Kriseman for not focusing issues like the city's aging sewer system (which the city is spending over $300 million to fix) and what Baker has characterized in the past as out-of-control spending (which Kriseman counters with recent accolades casting St. Pete as one of the best-managed cities in the country):

"St. Petersburg voters are focused on local issues impacting their lives. The need to fix a sewer system Rick Kriseman broke, the need to stop dumping millions of gallons of sewage into the bay, the need to fix our schools, the need to control the Kriseman spending binge, and the need to turn around the midtown effort that has suffered under the Kriseman administration. We remain focused on building a Seamless City and moving forward united.” 

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