Former state elections secretary Laurel Lee leads in Tampa Bay-Central FL congressional race

Lee cites pro-cop stance in CD 15 campaign

By: - August 2, 2022 4:37 pm

Republican Laurel Lee’s latest campaign ad boasts of her defense of fair elections and law enforcement. Source: Screenshot

Former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee buffs up her pro-law enforcement credentials in a new ad in her campaign for a congressional seat in the Tampa Bay and Central Florida region, as a poll placed her as a heavy favorite for the GOP nomination.

In the St. Pete Polls survey released Tuesday, 44 percent of likely voters in the primary supported Lee against state Senate Appropriations chair Kelli Stargel at 16 percent and state Rep. Jackie Toledo at 11 percent.

A separate Florida Influencer Poll, affiliated with the Florida Politics news site, showed Lee, an attorney and former judge, favored by 61 percent of what Florida Politics described as “a sample of political experts and insiders” for Congressional District 15.

The primary race features five Republicans and five Democrats and the district comprises parts of Hillsborough, Lake, and Polk counties.

Stargel “was the pick for about a quarter of influencers,” the publication said, and Toledo had 14 percent.

Lee’s pro-cop campaign aligns with the tone set by Gov. Ron DeSantis following the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality; he’s pushed the Republican-dominated Legislature to enact curbs on political demonstrations that a federal judge largely blocked the state from enforcing as violative of the First Amendment.

Since then, the governor has handed out bonus checks to cops and other first responders and offered financial inducements to recruits joining Florida police forces, both from in-state and out-of-state applicants. In a 2021 video, DeSantis promised cops “we’re not going to treat you as a political tool.”

‘Split-second’

Lee’s ad features a female cop coming upon two burglars on a dark street, one of whom appears to go for a gun. The scene cuts to black and we hear a shot.

“Police officers risk their lives to protect ours. They must make split-second decisions,” Lee’s voice-over says. “Liberals condemn those decisions because they’ve never had to make them. I’m Laurel Lee, a conservative prosecutor appointed by Gov. DeSantis to safeguard our elections. In Congress, I’ll defend the rule of law and those who serve it.”

Earlier this week, Lee won the endorsement of Rick Swearingen, the former chief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. She’s also trumped the endorsements of more than 50 service veterans and Attorney General Ashley Moody, a fellow Republican.

Lee is a former federal prosecutor and state trial judge. She served as secretary of state under DeSantis between 2019 and April, when she left the job to mount her congressional run. Among other duties, the office oversees elections.

The 2020 elections were largely uneventful but that didn’t stop DeSantis from promoting voting restrictions ostensibly designed to prevent fraud. A federal judge in Tallahassee blocked enforcement of most of the provisions but was overruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. As chief elections officer, Lee was the named plaintiff in that litigation.

Financing

Lee’s campaign account contained $510,143.00 at the end of June, according to federal elections records and had spent close to $23,000. She also benefited from some $438,191 in advertising costs paid by a Massachusetts-based PAC, the Conservative Action Fund, which itself was the beneficiary of a $1 million contribution from a Florida-based PAC, The Conservative, that’s tied, according to the Tampa Bay Times, to her husband, former Florida Senate President Tom Lee.

State Sen. Kelli Stargel. Credit: Florida Senate.

Also running is outgoing state Senate Appropriations chairwoman Kelli Stargel, who benefited from a little more than $336,000 in ads and direct mail paid for by Virginia-based Conservative Warriors PAC as of June 30. That PAC had received $1 million in June from a state-registered committee called Limited Government for a Stronger Florida, which was tied to Stargel and closed in May.

Stargel’s separate campaign account had raised $254,000 and spent $40,000.

State House member Jackie Toledo is another leading candidate in the Republican primary. Her campaign account had collected a little more than $520,000 and spent nearly $129,000.

Among the Democrats in CD 15, are former TV journalist Alan Cohn, who’s been endorsed by Crist and Democratic congresswomen Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Also running is first-time candidate Eddie Geller, a former comedian turned video producer.

Cohn had raised more than $84,800 as of the end of June and spent $41,000. Geller had collected nearly $438,000 and spent $304,000.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

MORE FROM AUTHOR