A state House race in Lee County pits a prominent business community leader against a Fox News pundit.
Tiffany Esposito, the president and CEO of SWFL Inc. since 2016, will square off with Ford O’Connell, a Fox Business regular and former Donald Trump surrogate, for the Republican nomination in House District 77.
While a fairly low-key race, the contest offers an opportunity to expand the Lee County legislative delegation. This year’s decennial redistricting process drew a Lehigh Acres-centered district and created an opening in the House in an area where most seats are held by incumbents.
Esposito released a series of mailers in the final week of the campaign touting herself as a “pro-life, pro-gun constitutional conservative.” Those also show her at business events alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, along with local leaders.
She picked up early endorsements from virtually the entire legislative delegation, including from state Sen. Ray Rodrigues and state Reps. Adam Botana, Mike Giallombardo, Jenna Persons-Mulicka, Spencer Roach and Kaylee Tuck, as well as Sheriff Carmine Marceno and State Attorney Amira Fox.
“My guiding philosophy is that a successful business environment strengthens the community by creating more high-paying jobs and broader opportunities for our residents,” she said in a message to supporters.
“I’ve spent years advocating to reduce regulations, lower taxes, and protect a strong free-market system. Now, I’m ready to take on that charge in an even greater capacity and create meaningful policies that will pave the way for new economic opportunities for all of Lee County and the State of Florida.”
O’Connell, meanwhile, has rallied much of the MAGA movement in the region. While he has faced questions about residency after moving into the district — he has a homestead in Washington — the former prosecutor has largely built up his campaign around a reputation established in conservative media.
His social media continues to focus on federal issues related to his national commentary, like immigration or even the recent raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
A recent ad just put on local airwaves stresses his long support of Trump and of Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Esposito also aligns herself with in mailers. While Esposito leaned in on business advocacy and education, O’Connell sunk his teeth into red meat issues.
“For years I’ve defended our conservative values right here in Southwest Florida and on the national stage,” he says in his ad. “I stood with Donald Trump through it all. Now I’m running to fight for you as your state Representative. I’ll stand with Gov. DeSantis to fight rising inflation, to pass constitutional carry, to secure our borders and to stop the indoctrination of our kids.”
The ad also floats images of out-of-favor Republicans like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney as he vows to fight against the establishment.
The winner of the Aug. 23 Republican Primary will face Democrat Eric Engelhart in the General Election, but the Republican nominee walks into the race an overwhelming favorite. About 56.01% of voters in HD 77 voted for Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election, compared to 43.09% who backed Democrat Joe Biden.