Man Who Took Iron Dome Out of Dustbin Running for Congress
Eric Lynn is using his Washington connections and relying on his local roots in his Florida race
The US Army completed its first live fire test on US soil of the Israeli-developed Iron Dome missile defense system. As the announcement came down Monday from Israel’s Defense Ministry, the man perhaps most responsible for the Iron Dome’s creation was down in Florida, but not at the Tampa-based US Central Command headquarters or the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center at Hurlburt Field.
He was in St. Petersburg, running for a seat in the US Congress.
“It was my honor to lead the US-Israel defense relationship at the Department of Defense at the Pentagon for six years and to be the lead on the Iron Dome project at the time,” Eric Lynn told The Media Line.
“When I first arrived at the Pentagon, the Iron Dome had been rejected and I was proud to work both with the US military and our partners in the Israel Defense Forces to make that a reality, and we’re glad that now the US Army is fielding and testing the Iron Dome as well. It’s obviously a system that has saved many lives in Israel. And we hope that it will save many lives for the United States military as well,” he said.
Lynn worked as the liaison to the Jewish community and an advisor on Middle East and security policy on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. He came to the campaign from his position as a senior legislative assistant to Democratic Rep. Peter Deutsch, who represented Florida’s 20th congressional district from 1993 to 2005 and he once worked as an intern at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
In 2009, Lynn became the lead Pentagon staffer on Israeli defense matters in his role as a senior adviser to the US secretary of defense. Weeks after Operation Cast Lead, the devastating three-week Israel-Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009, Lynn discovered on his desk a folder containing an Israeli proposal to fund a system to intercept rockets. The administration of the previous US president, George W. Bush, had rejected the proposal as flawed.
Lynn decided to work with current Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz, then Israel’s defense attaché in Washington, who claimed the Iron Dome concept had improved after an initial failed test. Lynn, following a second, successful test, would push top national security officials and, eventually, Obama, to back the proposal.
Toward the end of the Obama administration, Lynn decided to make a go of it in politics, running as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Florida’s 13th district, which encompasses Pinellas County, including the coastal city of St. Petersburg, Lynn’s hometown.
“Eric came on the scene in 2015. He came back to St. Pete, hoping to make a difference right then and there,” Mitc h Perry, a Florida political analyst, told The Media Line.
“At the time, Republicans had been accused of excessive gerrymandering, and Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that the district needed to be redrawn. It became much more favorable for Democrats, and former Governor Charlie Crist got into the race. All the steam went out for Eric,” Perry said.
Lynn ran instead for a seat in the Florida legislature, but lost to attorney Ben Diamond, now one of his opponents for the US House seat, which will be open due to Crist’s decision to run for governor again. Using his vast Obama-affiliated donor network, Lynn has racked up substantial funding for the race.
“The primaries in Florida are very late. They’re not until August of 2022. So, we have 12 months – a full year of campaigning,” Lynn said.
“What I can tell you is that I feel very confident about our campaign. I’m so appreciative of the local support that we received from volunteers, from contributors, from people who continue to reach out and want to be helpful to ensure that our campaign is successful, Lynn said. “Probably one of my least favorite parts of politics is the fundraising side of things. I like the policy debates. I worked on national security for a number of years. I also worked in Congress as a legislative director, writing legislation and policy. That’s the part of campaigning that I enjoy. But, one measure that people use is a measure of fundraising and I’m proud to say that we have raised the most money of any campaign in this race, and I was informed recently that we also have raised the most money and have the most cash on hand of any Democratic campaign in an open seat in the country.”
“So, I’m proud of the campaign, proud about the support that we receive and I look forward to campaigning through the election,” he also said.
The question remains as to whether the money will translate into votes. Lynn’s two toughest primary opponents are Diamond and Michele Rayner, a noted civil rights attorney and first-time state legislator, who is the first openly LGBTQ woman of color in that body.
“Polls show that the district leans 4.5% Democratic, but it’s expected to become more Republican-friendly. How much so, nobody knows,” Perry said.
“Lynn is an underdog and has his work cut out for him. The other two will be in Tallahassee filing bills and drawing attention,” he said, referring to the state’s capital and seat of state government.
“What Lynn will rely on is the Obama connection – that connection to Dem royalty. It’s still early,” he said, noting that there is no reliable polling out yet on the race.
There is also the question of whether Lynn can turn his national security credentials into something enticing to local voters. Lynn says he will lean just as heavily on his St. Petersburg roots as his Washington experience.
“I’m a St. Pete native, a graduate of St. Petersburg High School, and my wife and I are raising our three young kids here in St. Petersburg. We have been back since my time serving at the Pentagon for seven years. My three kids are in the public school system here in Pinellas County and I’ve been an active member of this community for my entire life,” Lynn said, pointing to his service on a number of local boards, the St. Petersburg International Relations Committee and his veteran advocacy work.
“This is a race about solving real problems for everyday people here in Pinellas County and, as someone who’s been born and raised in this area and continuing to work for the people of Pinellas County, I’m proud to be running and we feel very strong about our support locally as well as from other friends around the country,” he said.
Florida has increasingly become a hub of Israel relations, both political and economic. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is a vocal backer of Israel, and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of south Florida, an ardent Israel supporter, chairs the US Congress subcommittee with purview over the Middle East. While Lynn says he doesn’t believe Israel will play a large role in his race, he says his experience in that realm can only help.
“I will tell you that, in this community, there is a strong level of support for the US-Israel relationship and clearly people know that I have spent my career working on national security and as a lead of the US-Israel defense relationship, and I think that plays into some of their decisions in supporting me,” Lynn said.
The announcement of the US military’s successful test of the Iron Dome comes days before Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with high-ranking US officials in Washington, including US President Joe Biden, who said he supports Israel’s emergency funding request to replenish Iron Dome missiles and batteries following May’s conflict with Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.
“I think President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett are going to have an excellent meeting. I was honored to participate in a number of those meetings during the Obama administration when Prime Minister (Binyamin) Netanyahu visited. He used to not only visit the White House, but he would come visit the secretary of defense when I was serving as the senior advisor there at the Pentagon, and multiple times when we were traveling to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well,” Lynn said. Bennett is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday prior to his visit with Biden on Thursday.
“So those meetings are going to be very detailed discussions, very policy oriented, but they’re also going to be focused on two friends and allies working to solve problems together. President Biden has been a long-time supporter of the US-Israel relationship through his long tenure in the United States Senate and again serving as vice president, and that has continued here as he serves as president. And he’ll continue to support the US-Israel relationship, and that’s what he’s going to pass on to Prime Minister Bennett on his first visit here,” Lynn said.
As those meetings transpire, Lynn will be far outside his Washington comfort zone, shaking hands, raising funds and engaging in the endless campaigning now typical even of congressional races.