Pinellas congressional Democrats on new challenges

The three Democrats in Pinellas County most negatively affected by the new congressional redistricting map approved by the GOP-led Legislature last week say that they are all committed to running in Congressional District 13 this year, despite the fact that if the new map stays in place, it drastically reduces their chances of winning the seat in November.

What You Need To Know

  • The DeSantis map could increase the number of congressional Republicans in Florida from 16 to 20, with one of those  flipping from blue to red being the CD 13 seat in Pinellas County
  • Voting rights groups have gone to court to try to stop the new map from being used this fall — whether the courts will address the issue in time before the November election is unknown
  • The Pinellas County congressional seat was held for decades by Republican before it flipped to a Democrat in 2016, following the Florida Supreme Court’s redrawing of the district in 2015

Ben Diamond, Eric Lynn and Michele Redner have been running in some cases for more than a year in a district that voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by four percentage points in the 2020 presidential election. 

The new map now favors Republicans, as it takes out majority Democratic areas like east St. Petersburg and adds more Republicans from North Pinellas County. Trump would have defeated Biden by seven points in Congressional District 13 if the recently approved district lines were in place in 2020, according to MCI Maps.

Voting rights group have already gone to court seeking a preliminary injunction to block the DeSantis congressional map, but whether the courts will intervene in time for this November’s election is uncertain at this time.

Spectrum Bay News 9 spoke to all three Democrats today about their new reality. Two of them, Diamond and Lynn, no longer even live in the district due to the remapping. 

Rayner still does. She says that the fact that she was raised in the northern part of Pinellas (Clearwater) makes for an easier transition as she continues her campaign for the Democratic nomination.

“I know the area, and I know that when you talk to the people, they’re concerned about making sure that their families are taken care of, that they’re able to have food on the table,” she says. “That they’re able to make sure that their kids get a good education,  and those are the things that we’re going to continue to do.”

Diamond and Lynn now are running in a district they don’t reside in.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of my neighbors, and folks are just beginning to learn about how they have carved up Pinellas County to lump us in with Tampa,” Diamond said. “We’re spending time evaluating this new district, evaluating how this impacts the race and talking to the lawyers to understand the litigation of how this can get fixed in the court.”

Lynn confirmed today that he lives outside the newly drawn district lines.

“I think that the way that Ron DeSantis has played this game, he has put east St. Petersburg, which is where I live currently, in a district that is connected to Tampa,” he said, adding that like the other Democrats in the race, he believes that the courts will find the DeSantis drawn map to be unconstitutional, as was the case when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the District 13 map which similarly moved voters from Hillsborough County into Pinellas County was found to be unconstitutional in 2015.

“You can’t separate a district by a body of water. And you shouldn’t separate a city. The city should be set collectively together,” Lynn says, adding that he is going to “fight and defend this Democratic seat to fight for those Pinellas County voters, wherever that district is.”

“We know that this map is an illegal and unconstitutional map for several reasons,” says Rayner. “We know that on its face that it is a political gerrymander. We also know that it affects the representation of Black folks in this state.”

Democrats contend that the map violates Florida’s 2010 Fair District amendments, approved by the voters to prevent legislators from drawing lines favoring political parties or incumbents. 

The newly drawn up map would also remove two of the four congressional districts in Florida currently designed to allow Black voters to select a candidate of their choosing, Al Lawson in District 5, and the District 10 seat in Orlando currently held by Val Demings (who is not running for reelection as she battles Marco Rubio in the race for U.S. Senate).

Among the five Republican candidates running, three of them, Christine Quinn, Amanda Makki and Kevin Hayslett, told Spectrum Bay News 9 on Friday that they do all live in the newly drawn up district. Anna Paulina Luna and Audrey Henson did not return our request for comment.

Members of congress are not legally required to live in the district that they represent. Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution only requires that members of the House of Representatives need to be at least 25 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for seven years, and must live in the state that they represent, but says nothing about living in the specific district in which they represent.

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