Four Republicans qualified for the ballot in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, where one of them hopes to emerge to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto.
The August Republican primary will feature retired Army veteran Bill Olson of Davenport, banker Sergio Ortiz of Kissimmee, hospitality worker Jose Castillo of Kissimmee, and real estate lawyer Christopher Wright of Orlando.
The qualifying period that ended Friday winnowed out several other candidates who had filed to run, but who did not qualify. One independent candidate Clay Hill of Kissimmee, also qualified and will join Soto and the Republican primary winner on the November ballot,
CD 9 covers Osceola County, southern Orange County including parts of south Orlando, and eastern Polk County. Once Republican-controlled, the district has changed quickly, become solidly Democratic, giving Democrats a 13-point advantage in voter registration. It’s also heavily Hispanic, and is widely seen as the heart of Florida’s Puerto Rican community.
Soto is a two-term Democrat from Kissimmee who defeated St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in 2016 to win an open seat, and in a rematch in 2018 to get reelected.
In each of those election years his bigger challenge may have been the Democratic primary. Both his primary battles in 2016, with Susannah Randolph, Dena Grayson, and Valeri Crabtree, and in 2018, with Alan Grayson, were hostile and expensive.
This year Soto does not have a primary opponent.
Soto is a lawyer who previously served two terms in the Florida House and one in the Florida Senate. In Congress he has been particularly active on environmental issues, bringing federal attention and money to clean up the Kissimmee River and the Everglades; and on issues relating to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in Central Florida. He is the only Florida member of Congress of Puerto Rican heritage.
Olson, who retired after 27 years in the Army, is a former Walt Disney World employee who has begun to energize his campaign with significant fundraising efforts and professional consulting. Through the first quarter of 2020 he raised $86,000, which might not be much in some congressional races, but is more than any Republican has managed to raise in CD 9 in many years.
Ortiz is a native of Puerto Rico who has lived in the Kissimmee area for 30 years. He’s a former mortgage banker and small-business man who now works as a loan officer. He has been running with a strong emphasis on religious freedom.
Castillo has spent more than a decade working in Central Florida’s theme parks and resorts and has an MBA from Tulane University. A New Orleans native, he’s of Honduran heritage and is a strong supporter of tougher immigration policies, including construction of a border wall in the Southwest.
Wright is in private practice as a lawyer and also serves as a judge advocate for the Florida National Guard. In addition to his duties as an Army lawyer, Wright served as a liaison for the Guard in Tallahassee during hurricane Dorian. He advocates for smaller government and pushes 2nd Amendment rights.