Polk Democrat Robert Doyel gets the unthinkable: party support
Robert Doyel is the first Democrat in two decades to get state Party backing.

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Former Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, a Winter Haven Democrat and candidate for Senate District 22, is receiving what no other Polk County Democrat has received in more than two decades: support from his state party.

No Democrat from Polk County — the historic home of three Democratic governors and four U.S. Senators along with one speaker of the House and three Senate presidents in the 20th century — has served in either chamber of the Florida Legislature since 2000.

This year, Doyel is receiving support and the party has marked his race against incumbent state Sen. Kelli Stargel as viable. He noted he had his campaign up and running several weeks before state party interest.

Doyel served 16 years as a judge, retiring in 2010. But he has remained very active in several social issues including domestic violence.

He is the author of The Baby Mama Syndrome, a book dealing with the problems faced by young, often unwed, mothers.

He has been featured as a speaker and quoted on television news programs in the Southeastern states for his expertise on domestic violence issues and violence against women and law enforcement mismanagement of rape kits across the nation.

In 2016, he ran for Florida House District 41 and received no support from the Democratic Party, but had large grassroots support from the county party.

But what a change in races and two years make. Doyel has support from the state party, the Florida Senate campaign committee and several noted consultants.

He hired as campaign manager Trinity Laurino of Lakeland, an experienced digital marketing and fundraising expert and a former CNN producer.

Doyel hired Tom Alte and his St. Petersburg-based Democratic consulting firm, Blue Ticket for digital campaigning. His direct mail expert is Matt Martz. All were hired before the entrance of the state party and the Senate Committee into his campaign, he said.

“This is a serious job and a 24-hour one,” he said, “and I am working it.”

Monday, the campaign was notified that it had collected the required signatures from 3,321 voters in Senate District 22 to qualify for the ballot without having to pay a filing fee.

Before he can face Stargel, Doyel must win the August Democratic Primary. Former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale is challenging him. Rangel represented northern Osceola County for a two-year term 2012-2014.

Stargel a has served in the state Senate since 2012 and has been noted for her strict conservatism in supporting abortion restrictions and her support of charter schools. Her votes on education funding brought opposition from some public-school teachers during the recent session of the Florida Legislature.

She also received angry replies from some over her statement that, during gun restriction debates. “thoughts and prayers” were the best way to stop the evil behind mass shootings like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

But she has been a strong conservative in a previously strong conservative district.

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”


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