America First candidates prevail in several major county GOP races
A tied second vote tally on the race between Michael Thompson and Andrew Sund. Image via Jonathan Martin.

REC tie
Mike Thompson won the race to chair the Lee County Republican Party on a third ballot.

The race for Lee County Republican Party chair wasn’t decided until the third ballot cast. But Michael Thompson, a business associate of Gen. Michael Flynn, won an election by a single vote.

It’s one of several critical victories tallies this weekend for a group of conservatives touting themselves as “America First,” bearers of the agenda of former President Donald Trump. Candidates from the same wing of the party won in Alachua and Hillsborough counties. More elections for party leadership will play out in coming days, and could well impact votes for new state leadership for the Republican Party of Florida in February.

It’s unlikely any will unfold so dramatically as the contest in Lee County, the largest Florida county carried by Trump in the 2020 presidential election and the county that gave Gov. Ron DeSantis his largest raw vote margin of victory in the General Election this year.

Thompson faced two other challengers nominated for the county chairmanship, which is being vacated by newly elected state Sen. Jonathan Martin.

On a first ballot Saturday on Saturday at a Republican Executive Committee meeting, Thompson won 88 votes to Andrew Sunds 71 and Missi Lastras 36 votes. As no candidate had a majority, a second vote was held, and Lastra endorsed Sund.

But a second vote produced a tie 96-96 result. Members debated whether to hold a third ballot or flip a coin, and decided to try another vote. With the extended election process testing the patience of the crowd, another round of ballots was cast, then counted by state committee members and tallied on a dry erase board.

Ultimately, Thompson was 96-95, the result of an apparent Sund supporter giving up.

Thompson promised to have the party engage more on issues as opposed to just building party infrastructure.

“We have no committees available for volunteers to work on, we have a tired board who want to keep things the same and the two sides are trying to figure out the direction the REC will go moving forward,” Thompson told Florida Politics ahead of the election.

The results divided local political figures. State Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican, called the takeover “a dark day for the future of the Lee GOP.”

But Dr. Joseph Sansone, an REC member who pushed for aggressive resolutions to be taken up by the party earlier this year, felt pleased with results. “Expect the Lee County Republican Executive Committee to grow dramatically and a much greater turnout for Trump in 2024 and the other Republican nominees in 2024,” Sansone said.

That notably points to what see as an electoral goal of REC contests. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who just won re-election in Florida by a record amount for a GOP Governor, is expected to run for President in 2024, and Trump already declared.

Beyond Lee County, Tim Marden, a John Birch Society field representative, won the chair post for the Alachua County REC, unseating Ed Braddy by two votes. Dana Galen won the vote for Hillsborough County REC chair.

Notably, while Thompson saw an entire slate of America First candidates elected with him, Marden was the only such candidate to prevail in Alachua.

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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