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Florida Politics

Bilirakis is one of the few politicians who has managed to work across the aisle, and still uphold his conservative bona fides.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a staple of north Pinellas County and Pasco County politics, is endorsing businessman Chris Scherer for Pinellas County Commission.

“Chris Scherer is a stalwart conservative with the experience to help make our homes and communities affordable again,” Bilirakis said. “As a business owner, home builder and son of a veteran, I trust Chris to lead with principle and purpose on the Pinellas County Commission, and I’m proud to endorse his campaign.”

Scherer is running for the at large District 1 seat currently held by Janet Long, a Democrat. Scherer is a Republican. Democrat Cookie Kennedy, the current Mayor of Indian Rocks Beach, also is running to succeed Long, who is retiring from office.

Scherer thanked Bilirakis for his endorsement.

“Pinellas County and the surrounding areas have greatly benefitted from Congressman Bilirakis’ leadership, especially on senior and veteran issues,” Scherer said. “His continuous record of real-world accomplishment in Washington is second to none, and I look forward to working with him as a Pinellas County Commissioner.”

Bilirakis, who last year announced he was supporting Donald Trump for the GOP nomination for President in 2024 and who had Trump’s support at a recent fundraiser, has maintained his credibility as a consensus builder in Washington while also preserving his conservative bona fides.

Bilirakis has fought alongside Democrats and Republicans in the region on behalf of area veterans. And the Center for Effective Lawmaking last year rated Bilirakis the most effective Republican member of the House among the Florida delegation.

The Lugar Center, which tracks how often lawmakers work together across the aisle, scored Bilirakis as the most bipartisan member of Florida’s congressional delegation in the last Congress. He was the 27th-highest scoring member nationwide in the 435-member chamber.

Scherer has more than doubled Kennedy in fundraising for the race so far, with more than $155,000 raised between his official campaign and affiliated political committee, Friends of Chris Scherer. Kennedy’s campaign has matched Scherer’s — both have raised about $84,000 — but she doesn’t have an affiliated political committee boosting her spending power.

Scherer is also working hard to collect endorsements. His most recent, prior to Bilirakis’ nod, was from former Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats.

He has also received endorsements from state Sen. Nick DiCeglie, former Florida Education Commission Richard Corcoran, state Rep. Bernie Jacques, Clearwater interim Mayor Brian Aungst Sr.Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine Sr., former state Sen. Jeff Brandes, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, former St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon and Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

Long’s departure from her position sets up an open race for a countywide seat Republicans have long eyed for a flip.

Republicans recently flipped the political makeup of the Pinellas County Commission in the 2022 Midterms and are looking to grow that advantage with a Scherer victory this year.

They’re also taking aim at Charlie Justice’s seat, with a bid by Republican Vincent Nowicki to unseat the longtime Democratic Commissioner.