Former state Rep. Matt Caldwell announced on Monday he’s running for Lee County Property Appraiser.
But a broadside against Republican Party of Florida leadership in a letter to supporters had jaws dropping statewide.
In a phone call with Florida Politics, Caldwell said that despite victories at the ballot box in 2018, results overall disappointed.
“What is indisputable is that the party has never recovered from Charlie Crist and Jim Greer, and I think that fact had a lot to do with how weak our showing was in our statewide elections overall.”
Caldwell will also run for Lee County State Committeeman. That would put him in position to run for a statewide position with the party, and rumors in Lee County have swirled he wants to be state chair.
“For now we’ll say, I’m just looking to make myself available,” he said.
Caldwell’s email to friends and supporters announced he’s running for county office. The move comes after longtime Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson announced he would retire after 40 years in office and left with encouraging words about Caldwell.
But at the state level, it’s the party run that has tongues wagging. That’s largely because he tore into state party leadership.
“Our statewide victories in 2018 were not insurmountable by our Democratic opponents. If the five races were ranked, the outcomes ranged between 49.6% and 52.1%, with our race ranking fourth at 49.9%” he wrote.
“Bluntly, while the US Senate and Gubernatorial races may draw attention and financial support of their own accord, the RPOF was wholly unprepared to support the Cabinet nominees, who had roughly 1/10 of the financial resources as compared to the two top of ticket races.”
Notably, Caldwell, the Republican nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, was the only statewide Republican to lose in 2018. He was defeated by Democrat Nikki Fried by only 6,753 votes.
Blaise Ingoglia, RPOF state chair during the 2018 election cycle, said he remained proud of the party’s successes, which included unseating longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Rick Scott won that race by 10,033 votes.
“I’m proud of the RPOF’s statewide efforts in 2018,” Ingoglia said. “Not only did we win three of the four seats on the cabinet, including Governor, but we were also responsible for flipping a US Senate seat with Sen. Scott’s victory.
“Happy to see Matt back engaged; he’s always brought energy to the Party.”
Joe Gruters, the sitting state chair, said he remains focused on winning Florida for President Donald Trump in 2020. Gruters is expected to run for reelection as state chair.
Lee County Republican State Committeeman Chris Crowley also plans to seek reelection to his position.
Caldwell feels comfortable pursuing the party and public positions. Notably, he has had an appraiser job since 2002 and has worked professionally in the field for years.
The Lehigh Acres Republican previously served in the Florida House.