In campaign for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, will Cliff Stearns’ endorsement help or hurt?

by | Apr 24, 2020

Less than eight years ago, Republicans in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District gave career politician Cliff Stearns the heave-ho, tossing him out of Congress after 23 years.  In his place, voters chose upstart Republican Ted Yoho, who ran a campaign based largely on his now-infamous television ad comparing politicians like Stearns to “pigs at the trough.”

In the ad, Yoho promised to serve just eight years, and it’s because he kept that promise that we now have a handful of candidates vying to replace him.

Now, one of those candidates, Judson Sapp, is touting an endorsement from none other than Cliff Stearns himself. But is that really a good idea?

It appears Sapp’s strategy is to run against Ted Yoho’s legacy, nevermind the fact that one of Yoho’s own former staffers, Kat Cammack, is one of Sapp’s nine opponents. Sapp actually ran against Yoho himself two years earlier, a move that some observers think was more about boosting his own name ID rather than actually opposing Yoho. But for that to be true, then Sapp is counting on GOP primary voters to remember his name but forget the fact he opposed the now-legendary Yoho.

In any case, it’s not clear the strategy actually worked. Sapp is pulling just 16 percent in a poll he released himself. Granted, in a 10-way primary, that could be enough to make the difference, but with four months to go, he’s got a lot of capable opponents. In addition to Cammack, other notables likely to give Sapp a run for the money include former U.S. Navy pilot Todd Chase and self-funder James St. George, a physician from Fleming Island.

But it may not help Sapp’s case that he’s now getting help from Stearns, the ultimate anti-Yoho.

In a letter obtained by The Capitolist (posted at the bottom of this page), Stearns invites certain CD3 voters to a fundraiser on behalf of Sapp’s campaign, and describes Sapp as someone who will host many town hall meetings, just as Stearns says he did. Unfortunately for Stearns – and maybe for Sapp, too – that’s not what voters remember. In the wake of Stearns defeat in 2012, Republicans in CD3 accused Stearns of taking them for granted, pointing out that Ted Yoho simply outworked him:

“I did not see any of his signs here, and he was rarely here himself,” said Mary Lou Sharp, chair of the Suwanee County Republican Executive Committee. “Ted was here all the time. He was everywhere.” (Source: Florida Times Union, August 15, 2012)

Other GOP leaders in the area had similar observations:

“Yoho was in the county several times, and came to our meetings,” said Roy Abshier, chairman of the Marion County Republican Party and a Stearns supporter. Stearns “did not appear in person in the district as much as maybe he should.” (Source: Florida Times Union, August 15, 2012)

After his ouster from public office, Stearns, now a Washington D.C. lobbyist, still controlled a multimillion-dollar campaign warchest – money that is supposed to be strictly regulated. But the Federal Election Commission ruled he improperly used cash from those funds to reimburse himself for lavish meals at the posh Capitol Hill Club in Washington, and a hotel stay in Jacksonville.

But Stearns’ now faces an investigation that he may have also improperly used campaign cash to invest in the stock market. According to Florida Politics:

Stearns, who held Florida’s 6th Congressional District running from Daytona Beach to Southern Duval County, allegedly invested $209,776 from his campaign account into T. Rowe Price and The Vanguard Group investment firms, according to Federal Elections Commission records. Dave Levinthal, editor-at-large for government watchdog group The Center for Public Integrity, first reported the findings.

The FEC data showed the funds were expended March 31 and were noted as “losses.”

It’s not clear why Sapp is touting the Stearns endorsement, because if CD3 voters have any memory at all, it’s more likely to hurt his campaign than help it.

Aside from Sapp, the others who have qualified for the GOP primary are: Kat Cammack, Ryan Chamberlin, Todd Chase, Bill Engelbrecht, Joe Dallas Millado, Gavin Rollins, James St. George, David Theus, and Amy Pope Wells.




  1. Anonymous

    This is all bunk fake news .. 24 years of superlative service by Stearns , 655 town meetings. They cut his home town under redistricting and campaign funds can be invested in conservative blended funds.

    All legal. Entire article is hogwash

  2. Anonymous

    This Tallahassee lobbyist with his blatantly false article failed to mention that the Stearns letter included endorsements from 15 prominent persons including former Lt Governor, federal and state officials and most importantly from the local Congressman from Jacksonville Rep. John Rutherford.

    Is he going to attack those endorsements to?

  3. Harold Finch

    Stearns was an arrogant, self-serving Jackass, nothing more than a career politician and as Yoho accurately pointed out, “a pig at the trough”!! Sapp would be a terrible, I m supporting Gavin Rollins who would be a breath of fresh air for us in Washington.

    Also Cammack is an absolute joke!

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