Every election seems to have at least a few surprises. One of the shockers in Florida’s August fourteenth primary involved a veteran North Florida congressman’s defeat. Tom Flanigan reports the successful challenger in that race seemed to come from out of nowhere.
Cliff Stearns had represented the North Central part of Florida for twelve terms. That’s almost a quarter-of-a-century. Stearns first went to Washington as President Ronald Reagan was getting ready to leave Washington. And during all that time, no one could call Congressman Cliff Stearns a liberal. Here he is going head-to-head with M-S-N-B-C’s Chris Matthews on the issue of abortion.
(Stearns) “Well I think there should be a punishment. It should be against the law just like it’s against the law…”
(Matthews) “What should be the punishment?”
(Stearns) “I think the punishment should certainly be very serious and it should be….”
(Matthews) “What should it be for the woman?”
(Stearns) “It should be more than a civil case, it should be something very serious because…”
(Matthews) “So it should be a criminal matter for the woman as well as the doctor?”
(Stearns) “I think so. You are killing an embryo.”
Stearn’s congressional seniority put him in some other prominent places. He chaired an investigations arm of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That brought him attention as he probed the Obama administration’s ties to the failed California solar energy company Solyndra. He also railed against Planned Parenthood, further reinforcing his position as a prominent G-O-P mouthpiece. In twenty-four years, no other Republican had ever mounted a real challenge to Cliff Stearns. Until a guy named Ted Yoho came along.
“I’ve had enough of Washington standing in the way of job creation. I’ve had enough of the politicians undermining the constitution. And I’ve had enough of the career politicians who created this mess insisting that they’re the only ones who can get us out of this.”
Yoho’s criticism of “career politicians” aimed squarely at Stearns. Up until late last year, few people outside of Gainesville even knew who Ted Yoho was. That’s where he cared for cows, horses and other critters as a large animal veterinarian. Yoho aggressively courted Tea Party members, speaking at rallies like this one in his hometown.
“This election is coming down, in 2012, this election is coming down to stop socialism probably more than anything else.”
Yoho’s campaign focused on the standard Tea Party targets...getting rid of the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare”....doing away with federal income and payroll taxes, replacing them with a national sales tax, a lessened government burden on business...
“We need a government that is efficient and doesn’t overburden us with rules, regulations, mandates and taxes. We need a government that will protect not only states’ rights, but our individual rights and we’re seeing them fade away a little at a time.”
Yoho’s energy policy mirrored the Tea Party preference to “drill baby, drill.” But Yoho also struck out on his own in the area of immigration. While favoring tougher border control, he also backed a guest worker program along with a streamlined path to citizenship. And no one could say Yoho’s campaign lacked for humor. He posted this YouTube clip of himself having a phone conversation with a George W. Bush impersonator.
(Yoho) “Oh hey, Mr. President, how are things in Obamaland?”
(“W”) “Man, Ted, that’s exactly why I called you. America needs you, man. The government’s out of control. At least it’s in the control of a man who’s throwing our dogs to the wolves. I mean he’s spending the citizens’ money like a lotto winner. The economy can’t take it anymore.”
And while no body every wrote a song in praise of Cliff Stearns, a musically-inclined supporter composed this one for Ted Yoho.
(man singing) “…and Florida learned that to conservatism we must turn. Vote for Ted Yoho to take back our congress….”
It all came to a head on August fourteenth. Although Stearns campaign war chest was sixteen times what Yoho raised, the political newbie shocked the long-time Congressman at the polls, winning the District Three Republican primary by eight-hundred votes...a margin of one percent. Come November sixth, Yoho will have two opponents on the ballot, Democrat J.R. Gaillot and no-party candidate Phillip Dodds. As the District is heavily Republican, G-O-P officials expect to keep the seat, despite the demise of its long-time occupant.