Rep. Fiona McFarland flipped a Democrat-held seat red with her election in 2020. As she seeks a second term in a more divided district, she maintains a money edge over Democrat Derek Reich, but the challenger feels confident a focus on choice will lead to an upset.
Redistricting put McFarland in House District 73, which still covers the city of Sarasota but now also extends south along Sarasota County’s full coastline.
“I’m proud of what my team and I have accomplished for the district in my first term, and am focused on the work that lies ahead for working families, the property insurance market and our hurricane recovery efforts,” she said.
During her first term, she became involved in nuts-and-bolts issues like the formula used to fund child services agencies. She also served as the face of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to impose digital privacy protections for consumers.
The freshman lawmaker, meanwhile, continued to maintain a presence in national conservative media, earning speaking spots at CPAC and interviewing sometimes alongside her mother, K.T. McFarland, a former deputy national security director.
Her victory in 2020 reclaimed a seat Democrat Margaret Good won in a Special Election in 2018 and retained in the General Election that same year.
Good ultimately decided to run for Congress instead of re-election, allowing McFarland to compete for an open seat. But Republicans in many ways took that as a vindication. When Good served in the Legislature, she represented the most pro-Donald Trump seat in the House held by a Democrat.
But now, McFarland must seek a second term in a district where voters in 2020 were more closely divided in the Presidential Election than anywhere else in Florida, with 49.7% voters under the new lines supporting Trump and 49.34% backing Democrat Joe Biden.
Still, McFarland has consistently projected confidence, and often said the thoughtful nature of the district makes it ideal for her leadership approach.
“There is more that unites us than divides us and I have to hope we all want elected officials who believe that,” she said.
But Reich found a different message reflected in McFarland’s voting record. He first considered running when the House advanced a budget that would have cut $12 million from the Sarasota County school district as punishment for the School Board imposing a short-term mask mandate. Ultimately, the Legislature went a different direction, but Reich, a high school teacher, said he was shocked to see McFarland vote to punish students in her own district over a policy disagreement with the Board.
That prompted him to file against McFarland, and he has shared the story of what inspired his entry into the race hundreds of times. But his campaign in the final weeks has focused almost exclusively on another vote McFarland has rarely addressed publicly. He has concentrated all his closing messaging on a vote for a 15-week abortion ban that has no exceptions for rape or incest.
“This race is about if you believe a rape victim should have access to abortion services,” he said. “My opponent voted for a ban even in cases of rape or incest. If you believe a woman should have control of her body, vote for Derek Reich. If you believe a government bureaucrat should decide, you should vote for Fiona McFarland. I’m proudly pro-freedom.”
As a teacher, he knows students who have been raped, and said he cannot imagine forcing teenagers to endure a pregnancy carrying their rapist’s child. And going door-to-door reaching directly to persuadable voters on both sides of the aisle, Reich said he’s found an audience even with Republican women angry at the vote.
He recently sent a round of mailers labeling the incumbent as “Forced Birth” Fiona or as Fiona “No Exceptions” McFarland.
That said, McFarland has maintained a massive cash advantage throughout the campaign and her fundraising did not let up even in the final months. She also has the support of community leaders in places like Siesta Key, where she fought to incorporate the island as a city earlier this year.