HD6 GOP candidate Brian Clowdus knocks on thousands of doors in Bay County, runs as 'political outsider'
In downtown Panama City, 20 volunteers for Florida House candidate Brian Clowdus’ campaign gathered at his headquarters on a Saturday morning in late July before heading out in what felt like over a hundred-degree temperatures. Their goal? To connect with voters in the solid Red county. Clowdus didn’t start his campaign with name recognition. And he’s had to rely on door knocking and his ties with members of the local GOP to get his message across to voters.
“This is not about your typical raise a butt-load of money, do a lot of media buyouts, stick up signs on every corner. This is about grassroots, volunteers, getting out and knocking on doors.”
Bay County voters will elect their next representative to the Florida House on primary Election Day on Aug. 23. Both candidates vying for House District 6 are Republican: County Commissioner Griff Griffitts and political newcomer Brian Clowdus. Any voters, regardless of party, may cast a ballot in the race. While Griffitts has name recognition and more money, Clowdus has knocked on thousands of doors across the county and has the support of many members of the local GOP.
"How many doors have we knocked on so far?" asked one volunteer. Clowdus replied they'd knocked on more than 17,000 since he launched his campaign last spring.
Bay County resident Jodi Moore is a volunteer with Clowdus' campaign. She says she got behind behind him after hearing him speak at a rally in Lynn Haven last spring.
“And I said, who is this guy?" she said. "I never saw him before, never met him before, but I liked what he had to say: God and guns and liberty and freedom and so I was just all for that.”
Prior to launching a campaign, he also volunteered with the local GOP to support former President Trump in 2020. That’s how he met Liz Maclean, who’s an active volunteer in his campaign.
“When he decided he was going to run, I knew from my direct experience of working with him and him working alongside me that he was very capable and very sincere.”
Clowdus says his campaign is about listening to voters
In fact, that’s how Clowdus got inspired to run. He says when he was going door-to-door in 2020 he became concerned when residents told him that they feel like their elected officials aren’t listening.
“When I was knocking on doors with the Trump campaign, I just kept hearing on repeat here in Bay County, there was this good ole boy system. People were hand-picked for roles. Nobody really runs for office. It’s based on your last name. And I said well, that doesn’t sound right. For me, someone who’s just bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, knocking on doors. I just kept hearing that over and over again.”
Covering a lot of ground is no easy feat in Bay County, where many homes are spread far apart. Clowdus says their strategy is to divide and conquer. In a neighborhood north of Springfield, Clowdus gained a new supporter after chatting with GOP voter Gloria Lopez, who was standing in her yard when he arrived.
“I am very passionate about making sure that all of Bay County has a voice, has a representative," Clowdus said to Lopez. "I think we need people who aren’t politicians in office. We got to shake things up."
“Yes, yes, you do," she agreed.
"Would you like a sticker?"
"Sure," she enthusiastically replied.
"And I would love to put a sign in your yard."
"That would be wonderful," she said.
Clowdus says he plans to represent the district in the same way he’s run his campaign – listening to voters and putting their concerns first. It’s why he decided to run.
Some of those priorities include protecting the environment, increasing funding for education and affordable housing, supporting “constitutional carry” and expanding parental rights in education.
Clowdus and his opponent Griff Griffitts are largely in agreement on the issues. The difference between them lies in their backgrounds and campaign style. Griffitts – who hasn’t responded to an interview request for this story– explained at a recent candidates’ forum that voters should choose him because of his experience in public office.
“I’ve been your county commissioner for six years. The last three and a half through some of the most difficult times I think this county has ever faced.”
Griffitts was referring to the county’s recovery from Hurricane Michael, the COVID-19 pandemic and recent wildfires. Campaign finance records show Griffitts has also raised nearly four times as much for his campaign than Clowdus. Clowdus, in a dig at Griffitts, acknowledges the odds are stacked against him.
"I knew there would be a hand-picked candidate. I knew I would never raise the amount of money they did. I knew that I would not rack up the local endorsements, but I kind of take pride in that."
Democrats also have a say in the GOP primary election because only the Republican Party has candidates in the race. Bay County Young Democrats' President Matthew Bays says they couldn't find a candidate who had time to run for this election, and many Democrats remain undecided.
Bays says he likes Clowdus' stance on the environment, but he takes issue with his claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.
Clowdus has publicly denied the 2020 election results, including on Twitter.
"Brian Clowdus sounds like he's fully embraced the big lie, the false claim that Donald Trump won the election," Bays said. For every Republican that chooses him, I think he's making himself more unacceptable to many more Democrats."
Clowdus' evolution into a conservative
Clowdus has a long career in theater as a performer, director and producer. He says he became vocal about his politics during former President Trump’s time in office. In the midst of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, he was accused of racist hiring practices while he was a director. Clowdus issued a public apology and promised to do better. Several former employees posted their complaints on social media. None of them could be reached for comment. One of them shared their experience in a Facebook post titled "An Open letter to Brian Clowdus."
“Taking these like random things out of context, you know what she called these microaggressions and things, and painting me out to be this awful racist human," he said. "None of this is true. I’m not going to apologize for something I know in my heart isn’t true. And I’m not going to bow down to the woke mob.”
Clowdus says that’s how his evolution into a MAGA supporter began.
“Because Lord knows if you can go through that and still get outspoken about your politics. I was like — what do I have to lose? Everyone already thinks I’m an awful human. You know what I mean. So just go with it."
Clowdus says his views align with many of the leading voices within the pro-Trump faction of the GOP including Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens and Governor Ron DeSantis’ former outspoken Press Secretary Christina Pushaw, who's now DeSantis' campaign spokesperson. Clowdus, who’s openly gay, says he doesn’t see a problem with new bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and when done in a manner not deemed "age-appropriate." Critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” law. It's officially titled the “Parental Rights in Education Act.” When he first heard the news, he says it didn’t sound like something DeSantis would support.
“So I printed the bill, I read it. And I was like ‘Well, the word gay is not even in the bill.’ That’s the first thing I said, ‘Ok, the word gay is not in the bill.’ Because people were saying you can’t talk about having two moms or two dads and I’m like, well, because I would be against that, but I’m like, this is not even in the bill.”
Still, if elected, Clowdus vows to find common ground with Democrats on other issues like addressing the rising costs of housing, utilities and property insurance in the state.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Christina Pushaw is Gov. Ron Desantis' press secretary. She is his campaign spokesperson.
This story has been updated.