For a redesigned St. Petersburg, home of East Hillsborough House, a Democratic scrimmage

ST. PETERSBURG — Two veteran Democrats who have held the same House seat face off in the August primary for Florida’s District 62, while a newcomer hoping for his first political victory hopes the newly drawn district will work in his favour.

Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, is now seeking a second term in the Legislative Assembly. After two years serving District 70, the civil rights attorney originally filed to run for Florida’s 15th congressional district, vacated by Charlie Crist to run for governor.

But Rayner pulled out of that race in May citing a redesigned district that is dividing St. Petersburg and is now running for the new House 62 district. She wants to do more to tackle food insecurity. Part of his district covers southern St. Petersburg, where there are few grocery stores. She also said she wanted to learn more about the appropriations process and find common ground with other lawmakers.

“To really be even more intentional about being on the court,” she said, “I think coming back this second term, really being able to push some of the things that I’m really passionate about.”

Now Rayner, 40, faces his predecessor in the Aug. 23 primary.

Wengay Newton held the District 70 seat before Rayner and wants to return to the Legislative Assembly. Newton, a former two-term St. Petersburg City Council member, served four years in the House before leaving to run unsuccessfully for the Pinellas County Commission in 2020. Last year, he finished fourth in the race for mayor of St. Petersburg.

Newton, 58, wants his old — well, newly redesigned — seatback. He said voters in the district need his representation as water and sewer bills soar due to lack of infrastructure.

“They need resources,” he said. “There are no connections in Tallahassee. The relationships and bridges I’ve built, I want to go back and get resources. They suffer.

While District 70 included southern Pinellas County as well as parts of Manatee, Sarasota, and Hillsborough counties, the new District 62 is primarily in Hillsborough. District 62 guarded southern St. Petersburg and stretches across the bay to East Tampa, Riverview, and Gibsonton.

Jesse Philippe hopes this works in his favor. The retired sailor and current lawyer from Riverview is the only Democratic candidate to live on the bay side of Hillsborough. He says his neighbors worry about home insurance rates and property taxes, issues he has experience in as a lawyer.

“We have a lot of Democrats here with military backgrounds,” said Philippe, 34. “A lot of Democrats on this side with single-family homes that focus more on economic issues than social issues.”

Most of the Democratic endorsements have followed Rayner’s path. The same goes for money.

As of Aug. 12, Rayner had raised nearly three times as much for his campaign as Newton, his closest competitor, with money coming from attorneys and Democratic organizations such as Ruth’s List Florida. Part of Newton’s donations come from school choice officials. Philippe follows both and is their biggest campaign contributor.

District 62 is perhaps bluer than its predecessor, District 70. This favors the Democratic winner, who will face Jeremy M. Brown, who is currently in prison on charges related to the January 6, 2021, insurrection, in the general elections on November 8. Brown faces no Republican opponents in the primary.

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