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Pure-Pinellas House district may draw candidates from both parties

For years, largely Democratic parts of St. Petersburg have been a missing jigsaw piece from the 13th Congressional District, cited by Democrats as a prime example of Florida’s gerrymandering.

A ruling Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court that districts should not cross Tampa Bay could move tens of thousands of the city’s Democratic voters into the 13th District — a development that has some local elected Democrats already weighing a 2016 run for the seat held by Republican David Jolly.

Among them are Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and State Rep. Dwight Dudley.

Former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern already has indicated she may run.

Adding in the rest of St. Petersburg, currently part of the Tampa-centric 14th District, could make a more Pinellas 13th District more attractive for some Republicans, such as popular former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.

“Everybody that has ever wanted to be a Congress member is going to be looking at that seat,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor.

The 13th District seat, which stretches north past Dunedin, should already be competitive. Republican registered voters make up roughly 36 percent of the district, compared with 34 percent who are registered as Democrats.

The court’s ruling would seem to give lawmakers little wiggle room to redraw the district without all of St. Petersburg. Democrats make up 62 percent of registered voters in Pinellas areas that fall within the 14th District.

Welch said he welcomed the ruling and will be taking a “hard look” at running. That would mean relinquishing his seat on the Pinellas County Commission because he is up for re-election the same year.

Dudley said he will be pushing for an independent commission to redraw the districts. He may make a decision about running even before the new districts are approved.

“I certainly think it’s intriguing,” Dudley said. “I’m interested in seeing how it all shakes out.”

The potential entrance of other Democrats has complicated Mulhern’s possible candidacy. A longtime South Tampa resident, she had planned to move to Pinellas to run.

“I’m not going to run against a strong elected Democrat who lives in the district,” she said. “This makes that potential open up.”

Eric Lynn, a former adviser to three secretaries of defense, already has filed to run as a Democrat for the seat.

The Pinellas congressional seat has been troublesome for the Democratic Party, which hoped the death of longtime Republican Congressman C.W. Bill Young would end the Republican stranglehold on the seat.

With this ruling, there is early interest from some Democrats, but other possible candidates may wait until lawmakers OK new boundaries before deciding, MacManus said.

If a heavily skewed Democratic district is drawn, that could also sway Jolly to run for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat, she said.

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Politics

Pure-Pinellas House district may draw candidates from both parties