Laurel Lee lands GOP nod in CD 15 contest

Now it's on to November, where the Republican should enjoy a slight edge.

Laurel Lee has risen victorious in the most closely watched Primary races in Florida. The Thonotosassa Republican won her party’s nomination in Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

“Today, Republican voters in Congressional District 15 made clear the type of leadership they want representing them in Congress, and I’m honored to be their nominee going into the general election,” Lee said.

Lee dominated the vote in Lee and Pasco counties as state Sen. Kelli Stargel won her home territory of Polk County.

With all precincts reporting throughout the district, Lee led with 41.48% of the vote, with 22,421 votes. Stargel had 27.8% of the vote, or 15,024 votes. In third place was state Rep. Jackie Toledo, with 11.63% or 6,284. Behind her was former diplomat Demetries Grimes with 10.4% of the vote, or 5,619 votes and veteran Kevin ‘Mac’ McGovern with 8.7%, or 4,700.

“I want to thank those who joined us on the campaign trail at community events, waving signs, knocking on doors and meeting with voters throughout the district. You helped to make this victory possible. I also want to recognize my family, who was right there along with us campaigning, for supporting and encouraging me from the start,” Lee said.

“We have a lot of work to do to take back Congress. I look forward to hitting the ground running as we head toward the general election in November and continuing the fight to bring conservative leadership for our area to Washington.”

Competitors also congratulated Lee.

“I am humbled by all the support I received throughout my campaign,” Toledo said. “Tonight, we came up just short. I congratulate Laurel Lee on a hard-fought victory. It is time for Republicans to come together and support her in November. We need someone in Washington that will work to get things done and represent our region with resolve.”

Lee, a former Hillsborough circuit judge, shook up the already crowded race after she resigned as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Secretary of State so she could run for the open seat. She brought with her an instant DeSantis imprimatur, even though the Governor never formally endorsed in the contest.

Despite being the last major Republican entry into the race, she rapidly raised more than any other candidate still in the field, reporting more than $660,000 over the course of her campaign. At a Hollywood debate, Lee offered sharp attacks on President Joe Biden’s administration, including calling for the Homeland Security Secretary to resign.

She also employed numerous political connections. The daughter of an Air Force General, Lee rallied the high concentration of veterans in the district. Married to former Florida Senate President Tom Lee, the Thonotosassa Republican benefited from financial support from his years running for office.

In March, Toledo became the first major candidate in the race and quickly established herself as a fundraising leader, collecting more than $550,000 for the run. A civil engineer by trade, she ran on the platform of being a “mom on a mission.” She also pointed to a legislative record where she favored a number of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top agenda items including a ban on critical race theory in schools and a 15-week abortion ban.

Stargel, the sitting Florida Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, filed in May and boasted a reputation as the most prominent Polk County-based player in the race. The Lakeland Senator’s campaign and a super PAC supporting her sometimes made headlines over missing filing deadlines. But she rallied nearly $350,000 together before the close of the pre-Primary reporting period.

Stargel was also the candidate with the most experience on the campaign trail in the race. First elected to the Florida House in 2008 and then the Florida Senate in 2012, she was a familiar name to Polk County voters, even before factoring in that her husband, John Stargel, also ran multiple times and serves now as an appellate judge.

In the Republican Primary, Stargel also leaned on her support for some bills that have generated outrage on the Left but enthusiasm on the Right, including a ban on transgender girls playing in scholastic women’s sporting events in Florida and a 15-week ban on abortion, passed ahead of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

While Lee, Stargel and Toledo enjoyed the highest profiles in the race, two veterans also battled it out in the contest.

Kevin ‘Mac’ McGovern, who originally planned to run in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, has largely self-funded in the race. A former advisor to Gen. David Petraeus, he has spent more than $350,000 to campaign in the region and contributed almost half a million out of pocket to the race.

Another veteran, Demetries Grimes, served in Afghanistan as a military prosecutor and judge, and later as a diplomat in Israel and Greece. He has raised more than $410,000 for the race and spent half of that getting his own name out there.

The race for who represents CD 15 represents one of Florida’s biggest two-act elections this year. The district, effectively a new House seat awarded to Florida following the 2020 Census, leans Republican, but barely. About 50.86% of voters in the district went for Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election, compared to 47.74% who voted for Democrat Joe Biden.

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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