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New poll shows Rick Baker vs. Charlie Crist would be closer race than you might think

Baker would also need to distance himself from Donald Trump.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker hasn’t said whether he’ll challenge Charlie Crist for Congressional District 13, but if he does, there could be a path to victory.

A St. Pete Polls survey shows Crist with a solid lead in a hypothetical matchup against Baker, but the survey also shows a huge gap between undecided voters.

Among those surveyed, 42 percent said they would support Crist with only 35 percent backing Baker. But 23 percent were unsure.

In the mid and south-Pinellas County district, there are almost as many independent voters as there are Republicans. As of the most recent district demographics there are nearly 191,000 registered Democrats, more than 168,000 Republicans and nearly 144,000 no party affiliation voters with another 5,000 registered in other parties.

With proper internal polling and message testing, Baker could tap into what is a deep pool of potential voters.

Crist first won the district against former U.S. Rep. David Jolly in 2016 after the district was redrawn to favor Democrats. While that’s still the case, Baker would enter the race with strong name recognition among St. Pete voters.

But the poll shows some potential hangups for the former Mayor. Support for both Crist and Baker falls largely along party lines. Among Republican respondents, 56 percent said they would support Baker with only 22 percent supporting Crist. Democrats favored Crist 61 percent to 17 percent for Baker, meaning Crist’s partisan support is stronger than Baker’s.

But when it comes to independent voters, the score is much closer and there’s a larger share of undecided voters. Crist still maintained the edge with 41 percent support, but Baker trailed by just seven points while the share of undecideds is fully a quarter of independent voters.

Rumors about a potential Baker run had been trickling in since after he lost the mayoral race against Rick Kriseman, but they amped up when a Twitter account popped up drafting Baker to run in early August. Shortly after that, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a “cryptic” Facebook message Baker posted hinting at an announcement and urging supporters to follow his Twitter account, which had its first activity since his mayoral bid.

He also appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show talking about blight in large cities — most of which are run by Democrats. During the interview, Hannity oozed praise for Baker’s own policies on cleaning up homelessness while he was Mayor.

But his cozy interview with a Donald Trump ally could be problematic in a Pinellas County election.

The St. Pete Polls survey shows mixed support among voters for Trump with 49 percent saying they don’t support the President and 47 percent saying they do.

Baker’s 2017 mayoral bid failed in large part because of national politics surrounding Trump. Kriseman made an unprecedented move in making the race a referendum on Trump and successfully painting Baker as a Trump acolyte.

The survey was conducted before additional damning information started pouring out of Washington about Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian President in which he asked the country to investigate former President Joe Biden. With the whistleblower complaint now in the hands of Congress, additional details are flooding the media by the minute.

As the impeachment question heats up — and becomes more popular — Baker’s path to Congress might also include a shift away from the President.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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