Last-minute entrant into Pinellas County Commission race rolls out Donald Trump-inspired endorsements

David Leatherwood (1)
Roger Stone is among David Leatherwood's supporters.

David Leatherwood, a Republican who entered the District 3 race for Pinellas County Commission to challenge incumbent Democrat Charlie Justice, has rolled out several new endorsements, including some from former President Donald Trump’s orbit.

Headlining the list of supporters is Roger Stone, a Republican lobbyist and consultant who worked closely with the former President and who was charged and convicted of seven felonies relating to the Special Counsel investigation by Robert Mueller regarding Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. Trump later pardoned Stone, commuting his 40-month prison sentence.

Leatherwood faces Vincent Nowicki in the GOP Primary for the race. The winner will take on Justice in November.

“David Leatherwood can be counted on to stand up for the taxpayers and always put the people and their interests first,” Stone said in a prepared statement endorsing Leatherwood.

Ric Grenell, who served as Acting Director of National Intelligence, U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations in Trump’s administration, is also endorsing Leatherwood.

“While serving in Donald Trump’s cabinet, I learned just how important it is to have public servants who bravely confront problems,” Grenell said in a statement announcing his support for Leatherwood. “David Leatherwood’s temperament and integrity will make him a highly effective member of the Pinellas County Commission.”

Grenell said he has known Leatherwood “both professionally and personally for many years” and that he has “always been impressed with his resolve to support limited government, personal liberty, low taxes, and America First principles.”

Leatherwood is an influencer known for his conservative activism, particularly on his Instagram account, where he goes by the name “Brokeback Patriot.”

That’s a nod to the film “Brokeback Mountain” about two closeted gay men living in Montana at a time and in a place where they would not be accepted. Leatherwood is a gay Republican. His Instagram account features several posts criticizing gay activism, including use of the rainbow flag to celebrate gay pride.

Leatherwood was featured in a Tampa Bay Times article two years ago about MAGA influencers flocking to Florida to chase “political clout and connections.”

Leatherwood’s past has been troubled, with a DUI conviction in Hillsborough County in 2011 for an offense that occurred in late 2010 and a series of domestic troubles between Leatherwood and a past partner, which, on one occasion, resulted in being trespassed from all Disney properties in 2016. In that situation — the case was ultimately dropped — Leatherwood’s former partner accused him of striking him in the head with a closed fist at the Magic Kingdom Toll Plaza near Orlando.

Still, he’s attracting what Democrats often refer to as the “MAGA base,” a reference to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”

YouTuber Benny Johnson, who has also been accused several times of plagiarism and promoting conspiracy theories, has also endorsed Leatherwood. He has more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube. His videos include pro-conservative messaging as well as anti-Democrat videos that often depict leading figures in the party as zombies, with red eyes or in other visually manipulated ways.

“David is someone who I have worked with for years on projects across the country,” Johnson said. “He loves the America First movement like no one else. David will be a strong, intelligent, representative voice for one of the fastest-growing counties in America.”

Other backers include former Young Republican National Chair Rick Loughery, St. Pete conservative community leader Deveron Gibbons, Jacksonville City Council member Rory Diamond and Tampa Bay Young Republicans President Brittany Jean.

Jean called Leatherwood a “true patriot and friend.”

“Choosing principled leadership is vital for the prosperity and security of residents and visitors in Pinellas County,” she said. “David will ensure the county remains a safe haven for low taxes, limited government, and law and order.”

Because of his late entrance to the race — Leatherwood filed the same day qualifying period was ending — he’ll be at a disadvantage in the race from a funding perspective. Nowicki has raised nearly $65,000 for his bid, while Leatherwood has so far reported less than $7,000 raised since entering the race a couple weeks ago, on June 12.

And while a name like Stone may be headline-grabbing, Nowicki has support from a host of prominent local Republicans, including Rep. Kim Berfield; Redington Shores Mayor Lisa Hendrickson; St. Pete Beach Mayor Adrian Petrila; Redington Beach Mayor David Will; Belleair Beach Mayor Dave Gattis; Madeira Beach Mayor Jim Rostek; Treasure Island City Commissioner John Doctor; Gulfport City Council member Christine Brown; Gulfport City Council member Ian O’Hara; Redington Beach City Commissioner Rich Cariello; and former Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks.

Nowicki has also secured endorsements from former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker; former St. Pete City Council member Robert Blackmon; School Board member Stephanie Meyer; School Board member Dawn Peters; Largo City Commissioner Curtis Holmes; Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters; and former St. Pete Council member and School Board member Bill Dudley, who passed away earlier this year.

Leatherwood’s entrance into the race may be good news for Justice, forcing Nowicki to now use resources to battle through a Primary. Justice launched his re-election campaign after Justice entered the race and continues to play catch-up in his own fundraising, with just under $48,000 raised.

Republicans now hold a nearly 20,000-voter registration advantage in Pinellas County, with 245,003 voters to just 226,063 Democrats. That’s a sizable lead, especially considering that Republicans historically turn out in greater numbers than Democrats. While Justice’s seat includes parts of west St. Pete and Lealman, it is elected countywide.

The GOP voter registration advantage also means no-party or third-party voters will play a big role in election outcomes next year. There are nearly 193,000 voters not affiliated with a major party.

Democrats lost ground on the County Commission in the 2022 cycle, with Gerard losing her seat and Republicans claiming a 4-3 advantage. They are now looking to expand that advantage, with Republicans running against Justice and in the open race for countywide District 1, which Democrat Janet Long is vacating.

It’s widely believed that if the GOP picks up either seat, it will be next to impossible for Democrats to win back their advantage in less than 10 years. If they manage to keep both seats blue, party operatives are hopeful the pendulum will swing back in Democrats’ favor within the next two or three election cycles.

Justice narrowly held onto his seat the last time he was up for re-election, with barely more than 50% of the vote against GOP challenger Tammy Sue Vasquez.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


  • Deplorable Pinellas

    July 1, 2024 at 3:53 pm

    Interesting how you find a way to try to discredit each of his endorsers but don’t do that to any other candidates. There’s lots of skeletons in those closets, just interesting you only picked apart one candidate.


    July 13, 2024 at 2:46 pm


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