Charlie Crist once had Pinellas County in the palm of his hand. Didn't matter what party label he wore or what office he was pursuing, the man with the tan and a quick smile was always the beloved homeboy you knew would win St. Petersburg. Charlie plain owned the place.
Now all of a sudden, the former Republican governor -- a failed U.S. Senate candidate and failed Democratic candidate for governor -- finds himself behind in the CD 13 Democratic primary money chase.
This is a race, remember, that Charlie delayed jumping into. He waited about as long as he dared to see how redistricting would go, wanting a sure-thing result. This could be his last shot to go to Washington.
But now look: Eric Lynn, the former Obama Defense Department adviser challenging Charlie for the seat in the district redrawn to include more Democrats, announced Friday he raised more than $652,000 through the end of 2015. That's a lot of money to fight Charlie.
Lynn ended December with $550,000 in his campaign coffers, including more than $100,000 added in the fourth quarter.
Charlie, meanwhile, with all his name recognition in and out of the district, has done his best to smear lipstick on a campaign tally you would think would make Lynn's look like something out of a kid's piggy bank. But, no. On Monday Charlie announced he raised more than $500,000 in his first three months as a CD 13 candidate.
“We’re about to report an historic first quarter for a non-incumbent, non-special election Democrat in Florida,” Charlie wrote in an email to his supporters.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Lynn campaign, is laughing at Charlie's faux cheer.
"Charlie Crist and his supporters must be disappointed to be so far behind Alex Sink’s first quarter in comparison ... particularly given the strength of Eric’s grassroots support,” Burton said. (In the 2014 campaign against David Jolly, Sink raked in more than $1 million in the first few months.)
Lynn himself, however distinguished his career, is nowhere near the known quantity to CD 13 voters that Charlie is. Yet, he raised more than $400,000 in his first three months of fundraising in 2015.
Is there a lack of enthusiasm for Charlie's campaign? Are Pinellas voters and his once loyal cache of donors getting Charlie-Cristed-out? Hard to say at this point.
But there's no denying Lynn beat expectations and has reaped a strong base of grassroots support. A Lynn campaign aide said, "This cycle he brought in contributions from more than 1,100 donors."
“Across Pinellas County, I have received an outpouring of support from voters who want to see meaningful change in Washington and our community,” Lynn said in an email. “This campaign would not be possible without these supporters who have donated their time and money because they know I will champion policies that reflect Democratic values, make economic security possible for Pinellas families and keep our country secure.”
True, Charlie still can dial lawyers and unions for dollars. Nothing new there. But what has to discourage him as much as underwhelming donor support is that Lynn is winning the endorsement of local leaders. They include all Democratic mayors in the 13th District, Mayors Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg, Sam Henderson of Gulfport, and Wanda Dudley of Kenneth City.
Oh, wait. He also has the support of former Florida Speaker of the House Peter Wallace, the presidents of the Greater Pinellas Dems Club, Gulfport Dems Club, Women’s Dem Club of Upper Pinellas, and the Largo/Mid Pinellas Dems Club -- plus, six Democratic district chairs in addition to local city elected officials from St. Petersburg, Largo, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, South Pasadena, Belleair Bluffs, and Belleair Beach.
Ironically, Charlie, whose embrace of President Obama seven years ago triggered his break-up with the Republican Party, is up against a man in Eric Lynn who Obama encouraged to run for office in Florida and who he still publicly calls "my trusted advisor."
The president makes a point of not endorsing in the primary. But in now-Democrat-rich CD 13, it's no secret to voters that Eric Lynn not only is a solid, serious and knowledgeable congressional candidate, he has a special relationship with the president of the United States.
Charlie Crist may still be the favorite. But mark my words, he knows he's in one mother of a primary fight.