Heading into next year, Republicans want to keep every seat in their historic legislative supermajorities. That means holding House District 35, where Erika Booth, Ken Davenport and Scotty Moore vie Tuesday for the Republican nomination in a Special Election.
All are running to succeed Rep. Fred Hawkins, who resigned the seat earlier this year to become President of South Florida State College.
The fight to choose a nominee, though, has been a messy affair involving unusual political committee activity and a fight on ballot access in the courts.
Booth, an Osceola County School Board member, enjoys support in Tallahassee. The St. Cloud Republican announced her candidacy with the backing of the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee and Speaker-designate Daniel Perez.
She’s also married to Osceola County Commissioner Ricky Booth, so she knows the campaign trail well.
“Folks know me from my work on the School Board. I’ve served the community for years,” she said. “I’ve always been one with the grassroots in Osceola.”
Of note, Booth just won her seat on the School Board in November, but said voters have not voiced frustration with her seeking another office, largely because of the importance of education in this race, she said.
She’s also discussed matters like property insurance and affordability in the region.
Moore also walked into the race with notoriety. He won the Republican nomination for Congress in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, where he lost but came closer to defeating a Democratic incumbent Congressman than any candidate in Florida.
He runs with the backing of social conservatives like John Stemberger and Florida Family Action, and from Peter Rourke, the Veterans Affairs Secretary under former President Donald Trump.
“Now is the time to protect our Christian, conservative values,” Moore said in a campaign video.
Davenport, a real estate agent and flight attendant, ran against Hawkins in a Primary last year, and now is taking another shot. But he faces controversy as critics question his commitment to the Republican Party.
Voter records show he briefly registered as a no-party voter after losing his Primary last year, which prompted a lawsuit questioning if he was ineligible to run in the Tuesday’s Primary. Davenport prevailed in the lawsuit last week.
“I believe I’m in first place. Why else would they be attacking me?” Davenport said.
But most of the fighting in the race has been between supporters of Moore and Booth.
That included some bizarre political activity, with an Osceola consultant founding one political committee that endorsed Booth and then immediately using another committee to slam her for the endorsement.
Moore also has faced criticism for a prior affiliation to Cru, a college Christian ministry that has accepted money tied to liberal megadonor George Soros. It also has come under criticism within the Christian community for adopting social justice rhetoric in its outreach.
Both Booth and Moore dismissed the conversations and concerns around other groups’ activities as something unrelated to them or their campaigns.
Booth has raised and spent the most of any candidate in the HD 35 field, spending more than $193,000 on the Primary out of the almost $207,000 she raised through Nov. 3.
Moore spent upward of $96,000 on the race, and raised almost $111,000.
Davenport, meanwhile, spent just under $1,300 and raised over $3,300.
None of that counts political committees and outside spending, and some powerful Republican groups have put resources into the race. But that’s all likely just a taste of the spending House District 35 will see in the buildup to a Jan. 16 Special General Election between Republican and Democratic nominees elected on Tuesday.
Hawkins won the district by 10 percentage points in November, in a Republican-friendly environment where the GOP overperformed statewide. But Democrat Joe Biden won the support of a majority of HD 35 voters in 2020 and Democrat Andrew Gillum won the district when he ran for Governor in 2018.
As a Presidential Election year kicks off, both parties are expressing confidence they can win the district come January.