THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Aug. 15, 2012 -
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, in Congress since 1989, was on the verge of being ousted by a tea party challenger Tuesday in a stunning outcome in a GOP primary in north Florida.
Stearns, who was criticized for breaking a 1988 promise to serve only six terms, hasn't generally had problems in past elections. But with all but a few precincts reporting, little-known veterinarian Ted Yoho appeared on the verge of defeating him.
Yoho, a large animal veterinarian from Gainesville, was ahead of Stearns by more than 750 votes in the sprawling, mostly rural district stretching from the Gulf coast west of Ocala north to the Georgia line and east to the outer suburbs of Jacksonville.
If the results stand, and it appeared they would, Yoho will have a three-way race in November, with Democrat J.R. Gaillot of Fleming Island, and no party candidate Philip Dodds of Alachua.
"We had a message that resonated with the common man," Yoho told the News Service. "We've had enough... 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."
The race also ended, for now at least, the political career of state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, who finished third in the primary. Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett also was in the race, but drew less than 15 percent of the vote.
Stearns found himself running in some unfamiliar geographic territory after this year's once-a-decade redistricting process. His old Sixth Congressional District included Stearns' hometown of Ocala and also stretched more into the Jacksonville area.
In the new, more-rural district, the outsider Yoho appears to have struck a chord with Republican voters, drawing on tea party support and running against Stearns as a "career politician." Yoho's only ad featured suit-clad politicians wallowing in mud and feeding out of pig trough.
Stearns' opponents also painted him as a consummate Washington insider, noting that he was actually born in Washington, D.C. and educated at George Washington University.
The race was a bit heated - Stearns also faced an accusation of trying to get Jett out of the race, which he strongly denied, and also faced allegations involving his wife's job.
Stearns, 71, has most recently been notable as the chairman of the House Energy subcommittee that has been investigating the Solyndra scandal.