THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Aug. 17, 2012 -
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
A week ago, Ted Yoho was known pretty much only to the people around Gainesville whose puppies he'd delivered or whose horses he'd checked on at the farm as part of his veterinary practice.
Today, his name is part of the biggest political question in the country: Who is this guy Ted Yoho, who unseated 12-term Congressman Cliff Stearns?
Yoho's stunning primary upset on Tuesday has been written about by the Washington Post and several other major national newspapers. On Thursday morning, he was interviewed live on Politico's daily Internet show, watched by political junkies across the nation.
Simply put, Yoho has mojo.
In an interview with the News Service of Florida on Tuesday night, as returns were still coming in but as it had become apparent that he was likely to win, Yoho said the anti-Washington message that he campaigned on was the reason he won.
"We've had enough ... of Washington standing in the way of job creation, had enough of politicians undermining our constitution and had enough of the career politicians, who've created this mess, insisting they're the only ones who can get us out of this," said Yoho.
While that sounded like a typical tea party message of throwing the bums out, a check of Yoho's policy positions shows him to be more than just a flame thrower with broad anti-government pronouncements. He has spelled out positions, with varying degrees of detail, on several federal issues, from tax rates to immigration. All are generally in line with typical Republican positions, though his thoughts on immigration appear closer to the business side of the GOP than the populist-tea party wing.
He'll face Democrat J.R. Gaillot and no-party candidate Philip Dodds in November, but the district, which sprawls from the Gulf Coast up to the suburbs southwest of Jacksonville, is strongly Republican.
The National Republican Congressional Committee says the district is solidly Republican, and the party isn't worried that Stearns' loss means the party risks losing the seat.
Yoho also appears to have keen sense of humor and a showman's eye for using it to his campaign's advantage. His lone ad featured suited "politicians" feeding at the trough of government. He also did a video in which he talked about an upcoming fundraiser with a very good and pretty funny George W. Bush impersonator. His campaign website also features a video of a man singing the Ballad of Ted Yoho.
Like most Republicans in 2012, he mentions opposition to the new federal health care law early and often and also takes up the typically Republican mantras about how hard life is for businesses.
"No single solution will foster the change our country and state need, but we can help create an environment of certainty for all businesses," Yoho says on his campaign website. "We can create it by simplifying the tax code, repealing Obamacare and taking a scalpel to all the job killing rules, regulations and mandates."
He supports a simplified tax code, and would back the so-called "Fair Tax," a proposal that would end all federal income taxes and payroll taxes and replace them with a single sales tax on goods and services. But he also has a hint of political realism, putting forth an alternative if that can't be done.
"At the minimum, the corporate tax rate should be lowered and locked in for an extended period of time that would allow businesses to make medium- to long-term investment plans," Yoho says on his website. "The estate and gift tax must be repealed."
On immigration, Yoho has a more nuanced stance than many in his party, likely reflecting the agricultural nature of parts of his district and his experience as a large animal veterinarian – meaning someone who comes in contact with farmers. While he gives a nod to the need to secure the nation's border, he also addresses the issue of immigrant labor.
"I will introduce a workable guest-worker program that provides immigrant workers with a national ID card and mandates they pay taxes through a national tax ID number," Yoho's campaign literature says. "Finally, the process to become a citizen needs to be completely streamlined and English needs to be recognized as the official language."
Yoho is also pledging that, if elected, he would only serve eight years in the House, and would support a constitutional amendment putting congressional term limits in place.
A similar pledge was made by Stearns when he was elected in 1988 as Ronald Reagan was preparing to leave office. Obviously, Stearns broke that pledge, a move that led to criticism over the years.
On energy, Yoho's position comes directly from the mainstream GOP playbook.
"We need to drill here, drill now and drill responsibly," he says in campaign material. "We must build the Keystone Pipeline and decrease regulations on energy companies to utilize our nation’s natural resources. In addition, I will support all forms of alternative energy, provided they are market driven and are not subsidized by the government. Finally, it’s time to abolish the Department of Energy."
Yoho also is anti-abortion, saying he believes life begins at conception, and says on his website that he believes the right to bear arms is "a birth right and should never be threatened."
Gaillot, his Democratic opponent, also takes an everyman approach, noting on his website that he cuts coupons out of the newspaper and "will almost always argue for a discount." He says he plans to use elected politics to "enrich the lives of others," but doesn't delve deeply into specifics on most policy positions.
The positions he does take are fairly standard among Democrats, saying he opposes privatizing Social Security or raising the retirement age, though he doesn't spell out how he would propose keeping the program solvent in the future. He also opposes making Medicare a voucher program as some Republicans, mainly vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, have proposed.
Gaillot favors abortion rights, and wants to double the tax deduction for families paying college tuition. He does break from some Democrats in saying he thinks some domestic oil drilling should be explored.
Gaillot is the son of a Haitian diplomat and lived in Haiti as a child.
The no-party candidate, Dodds, has a unique approach that means he doesn't really need to take strong positions on the issues. Dodds is promising a form of direct democracy in which he would poll constituents on "major" bills and vote however the people tell him he should. Dodds is a product manager for a computer software company.
"Phil believes the nation may reach a tipping point on the question of special interest influence in politics and believes running for Congress on a 'No Big Money, Direct Democracy' pledge can bring some attention to the issue and offer a good choice for the voters in this election," his campaign web site says.
Stearns, chairman of an investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has gained attention recently for probes into the failed California solar energy company Solyndra and of Planned Parenthood. He outraised Yoho, 16-1, but reportedly ended the campaign with $2 million still in the bank, having never faced a serious re-election challenge until this year.