Diverse candidates seek GOP candidacy in HD 80

HD 80
Lauren Melo has been the frontrunner since her entry in February.

Since entering the race for House District 80, Realtor Lauren Melo has been the front-runner from the start. But she still must get through Drew-Montez Clark and Victor Dotres in a Republican primary Tuesday.

All three candidates signed up for the open seat after Rep. Byron DonaldsJanuary entry into a congressional race. Perhaps appropriately, the race to replace one of two black Republicans in the Florida House has become one of the most diverse GOP primaries in the country.

Melo, chair of the Naples Area Board of Realtors, jumped into the contest in February and quickly picked up Donalds’ endorsement. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Rep. Bob Rommel, both Naples Republicans, also threw their support behind Melo early.

She has had a leg up in the race since, but the open post still drew other candidates. Dotres, a Collier educator, filed in May. A Miami Lakes native and the son of Cuban immigrants, Dotres had shown interest before in Rommel’s House seat and briefly ran for a spot on the Lee County School Board.

Then in June, Clark, an area chiropractor, jumped into the race as well. As much as anything, Clark felt like there needed to be a debate about issues like the constitutionality of the  local pandemic response.

If elected, Clark would replace Donalds as one of few black elected conservatives in Tallahassee. Melo would join Passidomo as a woman on the Collier County Legislative Delegation. And Dotres would add to a long tradition of Cuban descendants in the House Republican caucus.

Whether because of Melo’s early entry or establishment support, she’s dominated in fundraising. She’s raised $128,000 for the run through Aug. 13 and spent more than $119,000 ahead of the primary.

Clark, meanwhile, pulled together more than $22,000 in short order and poured $15,000 into the GOP contest.

Dotres funded his candidacy entirely with a $4,000 candidate loan.

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 jacobogles@hotmail.com.



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