Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby announced her bid for Congress Monday, ahead of a press conference previously billed a “major announcement.”
The current Florida House District 70 Representative, a Democrat, is hosting a press conference at 11:00 a.m. at Lighthouse Church of Jesus in Largo.
The church, where her grandfather was a minister for years, is located in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, but not in her existing HD 70. Rayner-Goolsby has long been rumored a potential candidate for CD 13 since before incumbent Democrat Charlie Crist announced he wouldn’t seek reelection to run for Governor.
“We have to put public servants at the center of policymaking,” Rayner-Goolsby said. ”We have to do the will and the work of the people. So many people have lost faith in our institutions.”
“What we’ve seen in Washington is, we’ve seen Republicans vote against the very bills and legislation that would actually improve the lives of people,” she added. “We’ve seen Republicans vote against a legitimate President, we’ve seen Republicans vote against bills that would expand access to the ballot.”
Rayner-Goolsby’s entrance into the race sets up a three-way Democratic Primary for the seat. Rayner-Goolsby’s House colleague, Ben Diamond, has already announced a bid. So too has Eric Lynn, a former national security adviser in former President Barack Obama’s administration.
The three create an interesting spread for Democrats in the race, with Lynn offering perhaps the most moderate option. As a former national security adviser, his resume could help him defend against inevitable conservative attacks relating to the “defund the police” movement that emerged in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer.
Diamond also offers a moderate option, and he has a track record of working across the aisle as a member of the minority party in the state Legislature. And, as the Democratic caucus’ previously selected incoming minority leader, he also brings strong name recognition. Diamond stepped down from his eventual leadership post after announcing his bid for Congress, because he will not seek reelection in 2022.
Rayner-Goolsby, meanwhile, offers a more progressive option for the growing wing of leftist Democrats in Pinellas County. Progressives are on the rise in the county, most recently evidenced by a shake-up that saw former local party chair Barbara Scott resign as president and Lucinda Johnston, a former Bernie Sanders supporter, elected as her successor.
Rayner-Goolsby is a civil rights attorney by trade. She represented the family of Markeis McGlockton, a man gunned down in a Clearwater parking lot in 2018 whose case reignited debate about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
She was also one of the lawyers who represented the McDonald’s employee attacked by a customer in south St. Pete. Video of the attack went viral after the employee fought back against her attacker, who was later arrested.
Her work on civil rights is sure to score points among many Democrats eager for federal police reform. But, it could serve as a lightning rod issue in a General Election, likely against Anna Paulina Luna, who is so far the only Republican announced in the race. Luna ran unsuccessfully against Crist last year but performed better than some expected against a well-funded incumbent.
This year her chances will almost certainly be better. Without an incumbent Democrat on the ballot, Luna already heads into the race with better odds. But they could get even stronger, with reapportionment this year expected to add more Republican voters to the district roles and likely remove some Democrats.
Already, the GOP has bettered its position in the district. Heading into last year’s presidential election, Republicans, through a massive voter registration effort that will continue into the 2022 midterms, chipped away at the Democratic advantage in the Pinellas County district from 5.2 percentage points to just 4.6.
While Rayner-Goolsby gained momentum in the 2020 cycle, winning election in a four-way Primary with more than 31% of the vote in the district that spans four counties — Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota — she did so in a deep blue race that didn’t draw a single Republican.
That could give Democratic voters pause as they eye a nominee who can successfully take on a strong Republican in a purple district.
But Rayner-Goolsby is, at least at this point, the only woman in the Democratic Primary and the only Black candidate, giving her access to two key voting blocs.
Still, her entrance might leave some party operatives wary. The more Democrats who jump into the race, the more resources candidates will expend getting to a General Election. Meanwhile, if Luna remains the only Republican in the race, or if others join and she remains the front-runner, she’s likely to be free to bank her fundraising dollars while Democrats duke it out against each other.
And if Rayner-Goolsby’s possible inclusion in the race shifts the Democratic Primary messaging to the left, that could give the GOP additional fodder to capitalize on talking points that helped them clean up in Florida races in 2020 by painting the eventual nominee as a socialist bent on raising taxes and defunding police.
In any case, Rayner’s campaign is worth watching — for both parties.