State House candidates find themselves campaigning from quarantine
Mike Giallombardo, Bryan Blackwell

Giallombardo Blackwell
Both GOP candidates found themselves isolated when they should be campaigning.

Reaching new voters can be challenging even when you aren’t in quarantine. But both Republicans running to succeed Dane Eagle in the state House have spent parts of the last month locked away from the world.

Mike Giallombardo, a member of the National Guard, has spent much of the year on active duty, assigned to testing sites in South Florida. He was part of the team that set up drive-through testing sites in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The experience gave him an up-close view of what a novel coronavirus had on the most infected communities in Florida.

“I’ve never seen something so contagious,” Giallombardo said. “It’s something you can’t plan for.”

At one point, the Cape Coral Republican was faced with a scare as well, as he showed signs of fever. He ended up being quarantined in a hotel room until two tests confirmed he did not have COVID-19. But then he was back at the sites, helping facilitate lines that could stretch as long as six hours through South Florida roadways.

In the Cape, Republican Bryan Blackwell, also a candidate in House District 77, withered a lower profile ordeal. He started having flu-like symptoms a couple weeks ago and contacted the Veterans Affairs Hospital. Physicians there ultimately decided he wasn’t showing severe enough symptoms to burn a test, but he was ordered into isolation in his own home.

“So I’ve been quarantined and this is the first time I’ve been allowed back in the world,” he said.

Not that there’s much politics happening in the world.

Blackwell, in the month of March, only raised about $500, he said, just unable to find the heart to ask for money.

“Obviously door knocking has had to come to a halt, and openly campaigning for petitions is all but stopped—at least publicly,” he said. “Frankly, I haven’t felt comfortable doing any fundraising either.”

Giallombardo pulled in $7,230 in March, done mostly while he was confined to quarantine, where he remains even after returning home form an assignment on the front lines of a pandemic.

Both candidates are taking advantage of the ability to gather petitions with digital signatures and hope to qualify that way.

So is Democrat Josh Lopez, who has been part of a statewide group asking qualification requirements to be reduced. He raised $185 for his campaign in March, and still has less than the $1,700 qualifying fee in the bank but knows he can pay that cosy if necessary.

But the biggest challenges for campaigns, he said, is that nobody cares about politics.

“People are not paying attention to elections now,” he said. “They are paying attention to the pandemic and staying safe.”

Lopez is also part of a statewide effort to run pro-science Democrats in every district, and certainly he expects the pandemic to amplify a conversation about health care in Florida.

Blackwell wants to engage in some issues. He’s planning to start an online petition soon demanding the Governor step in and stop elective abortions at Planned Parenthood, based on an executive order stopping other elective surgeries. And he’s concerned Agriculture Nikki Fried has an ongoing freeze on concealed weapons permits.

And for Giallombardo, he’s just wondering if he’ll get activated again and find himself back in Miami.

“I think the Governor has done a great job along with state leadership,” he said. “The next big step is putting together a plan to get back to business.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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