Stearns trails local veterinarian in primary, declines to concede

Local veterinarian Ted Yoho is unexpectedly leading longtime Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) in their GOP primary.

The race is down to the wire. Yoho had 34 percent of the vote to Stearns's 33, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Slightly more than 800 votes separated the candidates. The Associated Press has not called the race.

In a come-from-behind move that even his campaign admitted was unexpected, Yoho would be ending Stearns's 22 years of service.

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The winner will face local businessman J.R. Gaillot, who went unchallenged for the Democratic nomination, in the general election. 

Stearns, however, was refusing to concede late Tuesday. “Since this is a close primary vote and we still need to make sure all voices are heard, we are awaiting the certified results,” his campaign said in a statement late Tuesday, the Florida Times-Union reported. “Congressman Stearns deeply appreciates the support and hard work of the voters who share his commitment to creating jobs, limiting government and reducing the debt.”

Yoho was favored by a number of straw polls and Tea Party groups in the area, according to his campaign.

Though drastically outspent by Stearns, campaign manager Kat Cammack says the grassroots support for Yoho was what helped him win the nomination. “This has been a true ragtag campaign.

"This is the definition of grassroots support,” she said outside of a victory rally she described as at least 100 people strong.

Cammack said Yoho looks forward to facing Gaillot, also a newcomer to congressional politics, and plans to focus on their differing philosophies of government for the rest of the race.

“It’s just a different philosophy. Ted is all about getting back to the founding principles of the Constitution,” she said.

Stearns served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, where he investigated the Solyndra loan guarantee and looked into taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

His district was changed in the redistricting process and he opted to run in the 3rd district instead of challenging fellow Republican Rep. Rich Nugent in the 11th.

He faced a tough four-man primary that featured allegations of bribery and commercials with pigs.

In March, Republican primary candidate Jimmy Jett alleged that Stearns's backers — with the congressman's knowledge — offered him jobs and help retiring his campaign debt if he dropped out of the race. Stearns strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Yoho, meanwhile, ran an eye-catching television ad featuring pigs, as well as men dressed in suits and covered in mud, portraying members of Congress eating at a trough.

"Career politicians are like pigs feeding at the trough," Yoho said in the ad.

This story was last updated at 6:49 a.m.