Former President Barack Obama is throwing his support behind St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Obama’s rare intervention in a Florida nonpartisan municipal race is an effort to boost Democratic turnout days before a primary that will likely force a runoff in November.
In the late summer contest, Kriseman’s support has wavered among African-Americans, a group that helped propel him to victory in 2013. By putting his thumb on the scales, Obama will likely help Kriseman among blacks and ensure the incumbent will survive to a runoff.
The Florida Democratic Party is also desperate for a win in St. Petersburg, after a streak of losses in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the Sunshine State last year, where he edged Hillary Clinton by a single percentage point. Florida represented a crucial win for Trump on the path to the presidency.
Trump has historic unfavorability among St. Peterburg voters, with just 37 percent approving and 61 percent disapproving of the president. In contrast, Obama is well-liked, with 61 percent approval, with 35 percent disapproving.
Among African-American voters, Obama’s approval is solid at 92-8 percent.
Kriseman has become a top priority of the FDP, with Democrats linking the unpopular Trump to Republican candidate Rick Baker, the former two-term St. Petersburg mayor who has led the race since entering in May. Recent polling puts Baker within reach of 50 percent in the primary, giving him the seat outright.
During the campaign, Baker has been coy about his support of Trump, refusing to discuss whether he voted for the real estate mogul. Democrats have latched onto Baker’s reticence, pointing out Kriseman’s history of blasting Trump — most famously by “barring” the president-elect from St. Petersburg in a December tweet.
I am hereby barring Donald Trump from entering St. Petersburg until we fully understand the dangerous threat posed by all Trumps.
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) December 8, 2015
“Mayor Rick Kriseman stands up to Donald Trump,” a new Democratic mailer this week proclaims. “When Donald Trump speaks out … Rick Baker’s silence speaks volumes.”
In backing Kriseman, Obama said it was over policy: “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” applauding Kriseman for working on the “big challenges to move St. Pete forward.”
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s primary, Kriseman has bolstered his support among black voters, according to the FDP. Internal polls show Kriseman narrowing the gap with Baker to 3 percent, up from a double-digit deficit last month.
“The reality is Obama is popular in this district, and Trump is toxic,” one Democratic source told POLITICO Florida. “All we have to do is get this to a runoff. We need this win.”
“I am incredibly honored to have the support of President Barack Obama as we continue our work of moving St. Pete forward,” Kriseman responded in a statement Friday. “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 health care 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.”
Kriseman noted that, as a state Representative, he was one of the first elected officials in Florida to endorse then-Senator Obama for president in 2007. As a long shot at the time, Obama lost to Clinton in Florida the following year.
As mayor, Kriseman worked on several priorities of the White House, including veteran homelessness, increased minimum wage and offering paid parental leave for city workers. He also vowed to uphold the standards of the Paris climate accord after Trump pulled out of the agreement earlier this year.
Obama has made only one other mayoral endorsement, in Los Angeles for incumbent Eric Garcetti, who was already comfortably ahead at the time. Obama’s other notable post-presidency support was for Emmanuel Macron in France’s presidential race. While there are no plans for the former president to stump for Kriseman in the general election, it is certain Obama’s support will be a major talking point on the campaign trail.
On Friday, the FDP highly praised Obama’s endorsement, calling it “more grassroots energy to a campaign on the rise,” adding it comes along with a “significant investment” of Party resources. “With the President behind us, Florida Democrats will continue organizing and redouble their efforts to ensure that bold progressives like Mayor Kriseman are elected.”
From a release:
With Democrats around the country energized and ready to resist the Trump White House, the former President’s endorsement will galvanize the fired-up grassroots movement growing across the state. Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman is currently running for reelection against a former two-term Republican mayor being backed by major Trump and GOP donors. An endorsement by the Democratic Party’s most recognizable standard-bearer will serve to energize the Democratic base.
Democrats from around the country are organizing and rising up against the harmful Trump administration. Grassroots enthusiasm is growing and the Rick Kriseman re-election campaign has seen a wave of Democratic activism from residents determined to continue moving their community forward.
For Democratic activists who have been on the ground campaigning for Kriseman since early April, the president’s endorsement offers fresh vitality and a renewed sense of mission.
“President Obama’s endorsement affirms Mayor Kriseman’s strong record of progressive accomplishments that have helped move St. Pete forward. On climate change, criminal justice reform and building an economy that works for everyone — Mayor Kriseman has been at the forefront. With the President behind us, Florida Democrats will continue organizing and redouble their efforts to ensure that bold progressives like Mayor Kriseman are elected. Every single voter counts and we have the power to change our country, one conversation, and one election at a time.” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel.
President Obama’s support comes in addition to a significant investment of resources by the Florida Democratic Party as well as endorsements from other top Democrats including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Congressman Charlie Crist and State House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz.
This endorsement in Florida’s fourth largest city, signals a party on the rise and a serious commitment to electing Democrats up and down the ballot.