Eric Lynn suspends run for Congress against Crist, will vie for Dudley seat

The strange sands of Pinellas County politics are shifting yet again.

Democrat Eric Lynn, a former Pentagon official who has for the last year been running for the newly Democratic Congressional District 13 seat, announced Tuesday he's ending his candidacy for the seat, instead focusing his efforts on a bid for the State House District 68 seat.

It's his home district, and last week Democratic State Rep. Dwight Dudley announced he wasn't going to run for the St. Petersburg seat again.

The move comes more than six months after former Governor Charlie Crist enter the CD13 primary. Over that time, Lynn maintained he would stay in the race, though polling and fundraising made it pretty apparent that the needle wasn't moving at all in terms of voter enthusiasm with a name like Crist in the race.

So, with the encouragement of Dudley, County Commissioner Charlie Justice and former State House Speaker Peter Wallace*, he said in a media statement, he's seeking greener pastures. And, we assume, a cheaper, easier primary. (Our guess is that the national party didn't want to waste any energy on a divisive primary, and thus may have suggested he drop the bid for something else.)

"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," he said in the statement. "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.”

With his pivot to a legislative bid, he will now face Democrat Ben Diamond in the August primary. Diamond announced his run last week, shortly after Dudley made it public that he was stepping down.

On the heels of Lynn's announcement, Crist's campaign sent out a statement commending Lynn as well as Diamond.

"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," read Crist's statement.

Crist never seemed very worried about a primary against Lynn, but it seemed he also wasn't going to take it for granted that the nomination was going to be his. There's also a Republican in the CD13 race, Mark Bircher, but he's not very well known and we're guessing his Tea Party-ish leanings won't go over well with a district that now includes heavily Democratic downtown and south St. Petersburg. Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker had been thinking about running against Crist, but decided against it (in a year or so we'll know whether he wants to be mayor again, we reckon).

The District 68 seat comprises an area not un-similar to CD13. It's a bit smaller, but it encompasses parts of downtown St. Pete as well as Lealman and Pinellas Park. South St. Petersburg, a predominantly African-American area that tends to vote heavily Democratic, is not part of the district.

There is no Republican running for the seat yet. Last election cycle, Republican Bill Young (son of C.W. Bill Young, who held the CD13 seat for over four decades) challenged Dudley and lost. In a statement sent to reporters, Lynn implied he was the best option for keeping the seat out of Republican hands.

“We know that the Republicans will run a candidate that does not share our St. Petersburg values, so we need a strong candidate who can keep this seat Democratic," he said. "I look forward to building my campaign from the bottom up and advancing policies that are important to this community. In the State House, I will work hard to improve education — by making it equal for all children; to improve healthcare — by expanding Medicaid in Florida; and to honor and protect our veterans.“

Given that he's already been in the race for a year and will likely benefit from the name recognition and fundraising he's built up, there may be something to that.

*Initially, we misread a quote in the press release Lynn's campaign sent out. The statement said it was community encouragement, not that of Justice and Dudley, that helped him decide to run. We regret the error.

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