Barack Obama has been mostly quiet when it comes to campaign endorsements since leaving the White House, but tomorrow’s St. Petersburg mayoral election will show the extent to which his endorsement can reverse a downward trend of one of his earliest political backers. The only other elections Obama has endorsed in this year have been Sophia King in a Chicago special election, Eric Garcetti in the non-competitive Los Angeles mayoral election and Emmanuel Macron in France.
The Florida Democratic Party suffered massive statewide losses in November, from the presidency to the US Senate, and the state hasn’t had a Democratic governor in the 21st century. However, Kriseman was one of the first elected officials in the country to endorse Obama in 2008, and while Obama lost the Florida primary to Hillary Clinton by almost 20%, he’s clearly willing to help out an ally in need.
It’s against this backdrop that Obama endorsed Democratic St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. The timing couldn’t be better for Kriseman; internal Democratic polling shows him trailing Republican former mayor Rick Baker by 11 points, citing his “problems” with the city’s African-American community and that he hasn’t done “the best job” in handling the city’s sewage problems. That’s likely an understatement, since a recent “state report places much of the blame for the city’s 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman.”
Kriseman surely hopes that Obama’s endorsement will help him reverse the opposition he currently faces with African-Americans and the Florida Democratic Party recently doubled its on the ground staffers.
Kriseman was losing ground against Baker before Obama’s endorsement, but the endorsement still might not be enough. If Baker receives over 50%, he will win outright and avoid a runoff in November, which currently seems to be Kriseman’s best shot. Recent polling shows Kriseman closing the gap to about a 3% difference now, but Baker could still win outright if everything works out in his favor.
Baker is a particular problem for Kriseman, since he previously served as Mayor for almost 10 years and won his second term with over 70% of the vote.
Baker is such a proven vote getter that Republicans wanted him to run in Florida’s 13th Congressional District against former Republican, then former Independent, and now Democrat Charlie Crist. Florida observers believed at the time that Baker was “probably the only Republican with a shot at winning that district,” but he decided against it and ultimately served as Republican Congressman David Jolly’s campaign manager when he narrowly lost to Crist in the general.
If Kriseman is able to hold Baker under 50%, the battle of the Ricks will move onto November, where Baker still seems to be favored. The question of whether Kriseman can do that is up in the air, but if he manages to pull it off, he will likely have the endorsement of Barack Obama to thank.