With less than one week to the Florida primaries, several campaigns across the state are entering do-or-die mode, hoping to see the fruits of their labor pay off with a big victory that will catapult them into the general election this November. The losers go home empty-handed.
While several races are on the table next week, only a handful are worth noting, as many of the outcomes are essentially already decided. Here’s a look at the most hotly contested and/or more interesting races of the 2020 primary cycle:
3rd Congressional District – Republican Primary
Candidates: Judson Sapp, Kat Cammack, Gavin Rollins, Ryan Chamberlin, Todd Chase, Joe Millado, James St. George, Bill Engelbrecht, David Theus, Amy Pope Wells
A “crowded” Republican field is an understatement.
With Congressman Ted Yoho honoring his initial pledge to step down after serving 8 years in the House, CD 3 is up for grabs, with 10 Republicans staking their claims for the red meat seat.
But not all GOP candidates are created equal…
In a WPA Intelligence poll conducted in June, Sapp led with 12 percent support among Republican primary voters. Cammack, a businesswoman and former deputy chief of staff for Yoho, followed in that poll closely with 10 percent support. All other candidates registered in the single digits. But primary polls in wide-open races are virtually worthless so early in the contest, and the race remains wide open for several candidates.
The most recent poll conducted this week by Meer Research saw a reverse in the top two spots, with Cammack receiving 25 percent support — putting her 10 points ahead of Sapp. Meanwhile, St. George garnered 13 percent support, while Rollins secured 11 percent.
Both Cammack and Sapp have also dominated in the area of endorsements, with the Sapp camp being backed by several big names like political aide Roger Stone, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, with Cammack drawing support from U.S. Senator Rand Paul, We Build the Wall founder Brian Kolfage and several mayors across Florida.
While it’s still too early to call, it looks like Sapp and Cammack are the front-runners heading into Tuesday.
19th Congressional District – Republican Primary
Candidates: Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle, Casey Askar, Darren Aquino, William Figlesthaler, Randy Henderson, Daniel Kowal, Christy McLaughlin, and Dan Severson
From one of the most crowded fields to one of the nastiest, the battle for CD 19 continues to be one of the most hotly contested races in the state.
While full of potential of successors to replace Congressman Francis Rooney, the primary is currently a competitive four-way race between Donalds, Eagle, Figlesthaler, and Askar. Several polls have been conducted of the past few weeks, with the four front-runners each touting a preliminary victory. In the most recent poll, Donalds edged out the competition, receiving 22 percent support. Figlesthaler came in second with 21 percent, while Eagle and Askar netted 20 percent and 16 percent of those polled.
The race for CD 19 has also proved to be one of the most expensive Republican primary races in the 2020 election cycle. Donalds, especially, has raked in a lot of cash, sitting on over $300,000. More importantly, the Naples lawmaker has The Club for Growth backing his candidacy with over $1.5 million in TV and print advertising — quite possibly making him the clear favorite. Meanwhile, Askar continues to hold a strong cash lead over the field, reporting over $900,000 on hand at the end of July. Eagle and Figlesthaler have netted $250,217 and $240,611 respectively.
Unfortunately, the tight race has been marred with mudslinging, with Club for Growth labeling Askar as a Mitt Romney Republican, leading Askar to take shots at Donalds, attempting to discredit his campaign by accusing Donalds of supporting President Barack Obama — allegations which have yet to be substantiated.
Askar has also gone after Donalds’ past, pointing to the representative’s arrest record — something Donalds has been open about.
Also something worth mentioning: Donalds was publicly praised by Trump at the Step Presidential Justice Forum last October — something that could pay dividends on election day.
Heated with razor-thin margins, this Republican primary will be a must-watch on election night.
27th State Senate – Republican Primary
Candidates: Ray Rodrigues and Heather Fitzenhagen
This may be a primary race, but given their opposing stances on crucial issues, you’d think this was a general election.
Another fiery contest, Fitzenhagen will look to take her 8 years of experience in the Florida House and bring it to the State Senate. Unfortunately for her, she’s facing a viable candidate with a proven conservative record.
Unlike Rodrigues, Fitzenhagen’s lukewarm conservative principles are a black eye on her candidacy. While the former Morgan & Morgan lawyer tries to smear Rodrigues with his connections to the sugar industry and tout herself as a ‘Trump Republican,’ her record on gun control and abortion says otherwise.
Fitzenhagen famously voted for a massive gun control measure in 2018, leading her to draw the ire of National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist Marion Hammer. The vote resulted in the state representative getting raked over the coals by Hammer, who accused Fitzenhagen of stabbing Republicans in the back by pledging support for anti-gun Democrat Gary Farmer.
Fitzenhagen also has a shaky record when it comes to the life of the unborn. During the 2020 Legislative Session, she cast one of the few Republican votes against a parental consent bill that requires girls under the age of 18 to get a parent’s permission before having an abortion — while Rodrigues voted for the bill.
The vote did little to add credibility to the conservative label she hijacked, and even resulted in Florida’s top evangelical activist, John Stemberger, labeling Fitzenhagen as the “most pro-abortion Republican in the Florida House.”
While early polling saw Rodrigues and Fitzenhagen trade victories, most recently, the Estero lawmaker has dominated his Fort Myers colleague — polling 22 points ahead of the moderate.
Rodrigues also has the support of incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson and has outspent Fitzenhagen nearly six times the amount of her expenditures.
Barring some unforeseen collapse, Rodrigues should walk away with an easy victory.
78th House District – Republican Primary
Candidates: Jenna Persons, Roger Lolly, and Charlie Lynch
Another example of a candidate with an identity crisis, Lolly is only leasing the ‘Republican’ title.
Last year, Lolly took home more than $187,000 in salary from his Fort Myers based If I Can Dream Foundation (IICDF). The issue: the foundation entirely funded by tax dollars through a state contract. Now, he is asking Republican voters in the South Florida district to nominate him to replace Fitzenhagen.
On paper, he’s a solid, pro-life conservative. But the controversy surrounding his lavish salary – far larger than what most organizations of the same size actually pay – may be the coup de grâce to his campaign. The high salary issue is made even more relevant because it is Lolly’s only source of income, and in January of this year he loaned his campaign $115,000 in cash.
While neither Persons, Lolly, or Lynch has held public office, Persons has proven to be a natural in the political arena. To date, the Fort Myers lawyer has raised over $250,000 and spent close to $247,500.
Meanwhile, polling has pegged Persons as the front-runner for the seat, with the Fort Myers native garnering over 40% of 232 likely Republican voters.