Joe Harding bests Russ Randall in HD 22 primary

HD 22
Harding will have an advantage in the November general.

Williston business owner Joe Harding won the House District 22 Republican primary.

He took the race over pastor Russ Randall with 70% of the vote to Randall’s 30%. Harding now faces Democrat Barbara Byram in the General Election.

Both Republicans entered the race this year as first-time candidates.

Harding was well-versed on agriculture issues and focused on workforce education throughout his campaign.

“I support a two-path education for high school, and we need to do better for the 40% of high school graduates who don’t go to college,” he told Florida Politics.

Russ Randall, head of First Baptist Church, ran his first race for public office, recently telling reporters at WCJB he felt God had “opened this door and is calling us to be part of this.”

Harding heads to November a clear favorite in the north Central Florida district. Term-limited Rep. Charlie Stone won the district in 2018 with 64% of the vote over Democrat Bernard Parker.

Regardless, it means a new face in the Capitol. That itself is quite the development considering former Rep. Kurt Kelly once had eyes on the Marion-Levy County seat

Kelly left the race in September to focus on his work with the Florida Coalition for Children, an organization that advocates on behalf of at-risk children.

Before his exit, it appeared the primary was going to be a true three-way race. All three candidates had mostly kept pace with each other on the fundraising trail, and Kelly’s experience may well have proved the difference-maker against a pair of then-unknown contenders.

His exit benefited Harding more so than Randall.

In the months since it became a head-to-head, Harding racked up endorsements from area politicians like Levy County Tax Collector Linda Fugate, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Levy Sheriff Bobby McCallum and the Florida Medical Association.

The crown jewel — a nod from Stone — came a year ago.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Joe Harding has what it takes to get things done in Tallahassee,” McClain said in a news release. “His roots in the district, his business experience, and his strong conservative values all make him perfectly suited to effectively serve the people of District 22.”

The endorsement was a coup not only because of Stone’s four-term tenure, but because it lent credibility to Harding’s campaign in the Marion County portion of the district — Marion’s tract is home to about 43,000 registered Republican, near triple the number who hail from Harding’s home turf in Levy County.

Alongside endorsements came a burst of fundraising. Harding collected more than $164,000 and chipped in $21,000 from his own bank account. He entered the final five days of the race with about $10,000 left to spend.

Still, Randall remained competitive. His final finance report before the primary, he showed total fundraising of $114,000 and about $12,000 in the bank.

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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