In what may be shaping up as the political “Year of the Woman,” Josie Tomkow has won the Republican primary for House District 39, which opened up over Thanksgiving with the departure of Neil Combee.
Tomkow, a 22-year-old University of Florida student, took a decisive 65 percent of the vote to become her party’s nominee for the Republican-leaning seat covering Auburndale, Polk City, North Lakeland and a portion of Osceola County.
Combee had won re-election in HD 39 by more than 62 percent in 2016.
“The community, especially the agricultural community, showed up!” Tomkow said in a statement. “As I’ve said from day one, I’ll never stop fighting for the people of this district, our heritage and our way of life.”
Tomkow’s opponent, 34-year-old Jennifer Spath, was trounced with only 35 percent of the vote.
Tomkow previously worked in the office of Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, and in her parent’s business, Cattlemen’s Livestock Market in Lakeland. Throughout the race, she has led in fundraising, taking in nearly $120,000 by Feb. 15.
“Josie was one hell of a campaigner,” said Republican consultant Tom Piccolo.
Spath, a former prosecutor in the 10th Judicial Circuit, raised only $27,325 in the race, and loaned her campaign $31,500.
The race became contentious after a political-action committee supporting Tomkow sent six flyers in the last month to HD 39 Republican voters, which described Spath as a “liberal” fan of Hillary Clinton and soft on crime as a prosecutor.
“You can’t trust liberal lawyer Jennifer Spath’s judgment,” one of the mailers said, pointing out that, in 2012, she agreed to a plea deal to a man charged with battering a law enforcement officer.
“The man only spent 120 days in jail with 12 months’ probation for this crime of battery on a law enforcement officer,” the flyer stated. The flyers were paid for by the Venice-based Make America Great Again political action committee.
Another flyer showed a picture of Spath next to Clinton with a heart between them.
On Nov. 24, Combee resigned his seat to take a post as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
Tomkow now faces Democrat Ricky Shirah in the May 1 special election.