A political committee backing Kelli Stargel in her campaign for Florida’s 15th Congressional District has begun launching attack ads against the Lakeland Republican’s Primary rivals.
The Florida Senate’s budget chief is up against former Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Rep. Jackie Toledo and two others in the Republican Primary for the Tampa Bay-area seat, and recent polls show Lee in the lead with a nearly 3-to-1 advantage over Stargel.
Conservative Warriors PAC is attempting to help Stargel regain momentum — or slow her opponent’s — by peppering Hillsborough and Polk mailboxes with misleading ads slamming Lee and Toledo.
One mailer claims Lee “caved on election integrity” by refusing to do a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election results. The wording conceals the fact that the 2020 results were audited and the state, by law, audits all election results.
While some lawmakers — such as Howey-in-the-Hills Rep. Anthony Sabatini — filed legislation mandating a so-called “forensic audit,” the results of Florida’s election did not warrant one since there was no indication of malfeasance and the results, at least in the presidential race, weren’t close.
As Gov. Ron DeSantis has noted, the state passed the 2020 audit “with flying colors.”
The anti-Lee mailer also claims the Governor has “refused” to endorse Lee, suggesting acrimony between DeSantis and one of his most prominent appointees.
DeSantis has not endorsed Lee or any other CD 15 candidate, though Stargel has insinuated she has the Governor’s support with mailers showing her next to DeSantis — a practice that has drawn the Governor’s ire in other races.
The most perplexing claim against Lee is that she “resigned from the DeSantis administration.” It’s a surface-level truth that’s clearly intended to make voters assume she did so amid scandal, when Lee’s resignation was merely a precursor to launching her congressional campaign.
Conservative Warrior PAC’s anti-Toledo mailer is just as baffling.
“We already have Liz Cheney, we don’t need Jackie Toledo! Jackie Toledo’s record on spending, taxes and gun rights will fit right in with Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” it says.
It’s puzzling how a Republican state Representative from Tampa could mend the divide between the two extremes of the Democratic Party, and if she could Democrats would be clamoring for her to win. Yet the mailer offers no clues to solve that mystery.
Instead, it slams the Tampa Republican for voting in favor of “massive spending increases” and the “largest tax increase in Florida’s modern history.”
The first charge presumably relates to the state budget. The second bullet point is a reference to the annual tax bill. Whether one agrees with their characterization or not, both claims are true — Toledo did vote for the budget and the tax bill.
But the mailer’s script could easily be flipped.
As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Stargel is one of the architects of the record $110 billion state budget and she wields tremendous power over what and how much made it into the spending plan. Likewise, Stargel also voted for the tax bill.
The same mailer that hits Toledo for those votes also points out that her NRA rating has slipped from an “A” to a “C.” But the organization has also lowered Stargel’s rating from an “A” to a “C”
The only candidates in the CD 15 field with a higher grade are Lee and lesser-known Republican Mac McGovern, both of whom received an “AQ.” which signifies that their grade is based on a questionnaire rather than a legislative voting record.
Images of the mailers are below.