Naples businessman Casey Askar holds the lead in a crowded Republican field vying in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. That’s according to a St. Pete Polls survey, commissioned by Florida Politics, that shows lawmaker Byron Donalds in a strong second place.
The poll of likely Republican voters in the district pegged Askar’s support just above 30%. Donalds was the favorite of nearly 26% of voters. St. Pete Polls reports a margin of error of 4.3%.
Dr. William Figlesthaler came in third with under 16%. House Republican Leader Dane Eagle sits in fourth with under 8%, ahead of Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson at around 5%. But with only 12% of respondents undecided, the results suggest any path to victory for these candidates means cutting into Askar’s or Donalds’ support.
Rounding out the field, disabilities activist Darren Aquino and recent Ave Maria law grad Christy McLaughlin tied for 6th place, with under 2% each. Collier County Sheriff’s deputy Daniel Kowal and former Minnesota lawmaker Dan Severson received support from less than 1% of poll respondents.
The poll, conducted by automated phone call on July 6, included responses from 508 voters in the district.
The results confirmed the top four candidates indicated by fundraising, though in a different order.
Askar, who boasted a significant cash lead at the end of the first quarter, holds top position in the poll as well. But Donalds finished the quarter with less cash on hand than Figlesthaler or Eagle, yet polls within the margin of error of Askar.
“We knew we could never match the self-funders throwing in millions of dollars, but that we didn’t have to,” said Brad Herold, a consultant for Donalds. “As soon as voters were introduced to Byron they’d resonate to his message and that’s what’s happening. President Trump was right when he said Byron has a tremendous future.”
Figlesthaler, the other significant self-funder in the race aside from Askar, spent the most on broadcast advertisement ahead of the poll— around $1.13 million to date. Askar has spent $1.12 million.
In contrast, Donalds spent about $32,000 and Eagle $31,000. Henderson and Kowal each spent under $1,000 on broadcast.
The spending by Figlesthaler, on air since before Askar entered the race, has kept him ahead of other elected officials.
The results suggest problems for Eagle and Henderson. The long-time elected officials entered the race hopeful name recognition would put them at the top of the field early on. Both also hoped to benefit from the exit of Heather Fitzenhagen, another elected official well known in Lee County who dropped out to run for state Senate. But Donalds, who has served in Collier County the past four years, was the only sitting official to come in with support greater than or competitive with the self-funders in the race.
Notably, the results put three Collier County candidates atop the field despite the lion’s share of CD 19 voters residing in Lee County.
Among women polled, Donalds actually leads with 32% to Askar’s 26% and Figlesthaer’s 16%. While 10% of mail voters favor Eagle and 7% Henderson, both men dropped to 6% and 3% among women. McLaughlin, the only woman in the race, won nearly 3% of the female vote.
The poll also tested favorability on the top four candidates. Around 52% have a positive view of Askar, compared to 14% who view him negatively and a full 35% with no opinion. Donalds comes in at 49% approve, 9% disapprove, though he remains an unknown to nearly 42% of voters.
Figlesthaler had a 45% approval rating, while 19% disapprove, the highest negatives on any candidate with favorability polled. Eagle, meanwhile, had just over a 27% approval rating and 13% disapproval, but almost 60% had no opinion.
A couple of the candidates registering low numbers on the survey questioned the reliability of the poll.
McLaughlin dismissed the poll as “Fake Polls, Fake News” and shared online video from a supporter who asserted the telephone poll did not allow a vote for her to register. It’s unclear if this was the St. Pete Polls survey.
Aquino, meanwhile, pointed to a separate poll from Political Prowess Polling that a few weeks ago claimed he was tied with Askar for first place.