ST. PETERSBURG — Two veteran Democrats who have occupied the same House seat are facing off in the August primary for Florida’s House District 62, while a newcomer hoping for his first political win hopes the newly drawn district works in his favor.
Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, is now seeking a second term in the Legislature. After two years of serving District 70, the civil rights attorney initially filed to run for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, vacated by Charlie Crist to run for governor.
But Rayner in May pulled out of that race citing a redrawn district that split St. Petersburg and is now running for the newly redrawn House District 62. She wants to do more about food insecurity. Part of her district covers southern St. Petersburg, where there are few grocery stores. She also said she wants to learn more about the appropriations process and find common ground with other lawmakers.
“To really just be even more intentional about being on the ground,” she said, “I think that coming back this second term, really being able to push some of the things that I’m really passionate about.”
Now, Rayner, 40, faces her predecessor in the Aug. 23 primary.
Wengay Newton held the District 70 seat before Rayner and wants to get back in the Legislature. Newton, a former two-term St. Petersburg City Council member, served four years in the House before leaving to unsuccessfully run for 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 redrawn — seat back. He said the district’s constituents need his representation as water and sewage bills skyrocket due to lack of infrastructure.
“They need the resources,” he said. “There’s no relationships in Tallahassee. The relations and bridges I built, I wanna go back and get resources. They’re suffering.”
While District 70 included southern Pinellas County along with parts of Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, the new District 62 is mostly in Hillsborough. District 62 kept southern St. Petersburgh and stretches across the bay to East Tampa, Riverview and Gibsonton.
Jesse Philippe hopes that works in his favor. The retired Marine and current attorney in Riverview is the only Democratic candidate who lives on the Hillsborough side of the bay. He says his neighbors are concerned 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,” Philippe, 34, said. “A lot of Democrats on this side with single-family homes who are more focused on economic issues than social issues.”
Most of the Democratic endorsements have gone Rayner’s way. So has the cash.
As of Aug. 12, Rayner has raised nearly three times as much for her campaign as Newton, her closest competitor, with money coming from attorneys and Democratic organizations such as Ruth’s List Florida. A chunk of Newton’s donations have come from school choice leaders. Philippe trails both and is his own biggest campaign contributor.
District 62 may be bluer than its District 70 predecessor. That favors the Democratic winner, who will face Jeremy M. Brown, who is currently in jail on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, in the Nov. 8 general election. Brown faces no Republican opponents in the primary.