Cliff Stearns Faces Four-Way GOP Primary in Redrawn Congressional District

By: Kenric Ward | Posted: February 21, 2012 3:55 AM
Ted Yoho, Cliff Stearns, James Jett and Steve Oelrich

Ted Yoho, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, James Jett and Sen. Steve Oelrich

Drawn out of his current district, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns still figures to have an advantage in his re-election run this year.

Just don't tell that to fellow Republicans trying to knock him out in the party primary.

With 12 terms in office and $2.38 million in the bank, the veteran GOP congressman has the power of incumbency and money behind him.

And though his Ocala home is now south and east of the newly designed 3rd Congressional District, nearly 70 percent of his old district remains within the new CD 3.

The first congressman in Florida to qualify for the ballot by petition this year, Stearns said he supports the look of the new district and is shopping for a home there.

“While District 3 includes western Marion County, it does not include Ocala which was divided into two congressional districts 10 years ago," Stearns notes. "I’m pleased that the new maps finally put the city back into one district, something that both the city and I encouraged the Legislature to do.”

But the new district -- which stretches to the Georgia border and encompasses all or parts of Dixie, Levy, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Suwannee, Columbia, Hamilton, Madison, Union, Bradford, Clay, Alachua and Marion counties -- has opened the door for other Republicans to challenge Stearns.

State Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, benefits from the new boundaries, which embrace 63 percent of his current district.

Seven of the counties in CD 3 lie within Oelrich's current district. The largest of them, Alachua County, is Oelrich's home, where he was elected the first Republican sheriff since Reconstruction and served 14 years.

He has since been elected twice to the state Senate, where he has taken tough conservative stands on issues ranging from the budget to illegal immigration.

And knocking down persistent rumors that he would bow out of the race in deference to Stearns -- who won re-election with 71 percent of the vote in 2010 -- Oelrich declared, “I will campaign in every county, city and community throughout North Central Florida."

Still, the rumors persist. One well-connected GOP consultant, who declined to be identified by name, predicted, "Oelrich will not run against Stearns. This will end up being a fairly easy win for Stearns."

At least two other Republicans -- veterinarian Ted Yoho and Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett -- appear to be in for the long haul.

Yoho, the first resident of the district to enter the race, sounds an outsider's tone, saying, “As a small-business owner and large-animal veterinarian, I have a different perspective than the career politicians.

"Unlike the entrenched politician, I have been in the trenches on a daily basis for the last 28 years. Like too many Americans, I have been on the receiving end of the garbage legislation coming out of Washington,” the first-time office seeker said. "We need more business sense and common sense in Washington, and that's what I can bring."

Zeroing in on Stearns, Yoho said, "After a quarter century in Congress, he has failed to chair a major committee. He's done too little, too late."

Jett has been Clay County's clerk of courts since 1998 and was a three-term Clay County commissioner before that.

While Yoho and Oelrich see Gainesville and Alachua as their power base, Jett is more geographically remote, living and working on the far eastern edge of the district.

Still, strongly Republican Clay County accounts for a sizable share of CD 3's GOP voters -- and that could work to Jett's advantage.

Jett did not respond to repeated phone calls from Sunshine State News.

In an era of anti-incumbent sentiment, Yoho could get traction against three longtime officeholders.

"Ted Yoho more closely represents the values of the tea party," said Paula Helton, of the Gainesville Tea Party.

Though her group does not endorse candidates, Helton said Yoho "shares tea party values of limited government and fiscal responsibility. He will bring a fresh perspective to Washington with his experience in actually running a small business."

Whoever emerges from the August primary, the district -- which is 59 percent Republican -- looks to be a GOP stronghold for years to come.

Some Stearns' skeptics wonder what voters in the new district will think of his now-defunct pledge to serve only eight years in Congress.

Stearns maintains that his Capitol Hill experience has benefited constituents, and believes it will naturally carry over to the new district.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to represent the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and the Veterans Hospital in Gainesville,” the congressman said.  

As a senior member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Stearns was instrumental in securing support for the construction of the new VA Patient Bed Tower in Gainesville.  

“I also look forward to building a strong relationship with the VA Medical Center in Lake City and its health-care professionals," Stearns said.

To bolster his primary bid, Stearns is bringing in House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on March 2 to speak at a campaign reception in Orange Park.

"Stearns will have money and discipline. Oelrich will have more heat. Advantage, Cliff -- but don't write off Oelrich due to the tweaks in the district," said a Tallahassee-based GOP strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Geoff Ross, a tea party leader, applauded Stearns for being "strong on the Second Amendment with the passing of his Right to Carry Reciprocity Act."

But Ross said former Sheriff Oelrich "has a stronger following" in the new district, and called him "a powerful force to reckon with."

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (18)

8:41PM FEB 22ND 2012
I am very impressed by Ted Yoho. He is a man of integrity and has a wonderful work ethic. He has given up his prosperous business because he is so passionate about the inequities of what is happening in our government. He is one of us. I believe he will fight for us as citizens. The incumbent MUST go. We need a Worker and a Giver,,, not a Talker and a Taker !!!!!!!!!!!!
Andrew Nappi
9:08PM FEB 21ST 2012
Cliff Stearns VOTED YES to #NDAA. This is an unpardonable sin for anyone who claims to respect the Bill of Rights, period. A Reciprocity Carry Bill is not a tradeoff, sorry folks.
There is ample evidence that NDAA sections 1021 and 1022 endanger every American and weaken our protections under the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments. So much so that people like Rep. Dennis Ross, who to this day claim NDAA is harmless, signed on the very next day of passage to a "language clarification" bill, which probably wont go anywhere but gives the appearance to trying to do something. The problem is if you KNEW there was a language problem and voted for it anyway, you violated your oath of office.
If Cliff Stearns understood NDAA provisions 1021 and 1022 and voted YES anyway, shame and disgrace on him; if he was too ignorant to read or understand the bill, shame and disgrace on him. Either way he has forfeited the public trust. It is time for all these YES to NDAA voting Congress people to understand this IS and election issue. Once you let them get away with this your only option is to feel good about losing the Bill of Rights to the GOP instead of the other guys.
Just say NO to Cliff Stearns....The Man Who Said YES to the military arrest and detention of Americans on American soil.
6:56PM FEB 21ST 2012
Cliff Stearns is not a bad guy, he's just not terribly effective. Although he's accomplished some things for his district, when you average these out over the time span he's been in office it's just not that impressive. I have no opinion on the others except to say that just on the face of their already being "politicians" I'd rather put my money on another horse (vet)!
6:49PM FEB 21ST 2012
It's a shame that our elections can be so closely tied to a "war chest" that doesn't actually define the best man, especially when the majority of those funds come from outside the district he supposedly represents.
6:47PM FEB 21ST 2012
I am so done with Stearns! He lied to us about a term limit and he's doing nothing to stop the bs in DC. Stearns where's your backbone? He's gone up to DC and made alliances and has become soft. He no longer represents his peoples' best interests. TIME TO GO! This is ridiculous that he's buying a place in Clay just to be able to run in district 3. Stearns why don't you stay where you are and run against your buddy from DC. We don't want you any longer. Can't wait for you to lose this "easy" race. You may have a lot of money, but that isn't from the people of the district that support you. And here you are tryong to show your connections in DC by bringing Boehner down. Well we don't want him and we don't want you. Good luck to the rest of the candidates!
Lynn & Brad
6:39PM FEB 21ST 2012
As a couple we've listened to Ted speak and he seems like a very promising candidate. If you haven't heard this man speak please do! He won't disappoint you. We were very impressed with him and enjoyed actually meeting some one that make become our representative. We have never had the opportunity to meet Stearns or these other candidates. Man the best man win!
6:35PM FEB 21ST 2012
Stearns needs to watch out. I don't believe this will be an easy race for him. I personal don't think someone should be in Congress that long. He hasn't been doing what's best for us, the people of his district, and that's what our representatives are supposed to do. They aren't supposed to partner up and do what's best for themselves to keep their seat. It time for Stearns to leave office and retire; it's definitely time for some new blood in Washington.
Todd Gearn
5:34PM FEB 21ST 2012
I've known Steve for a while. He is a good guy. He will give Cliff a run for his money. All $2.5 million of it.
Mrs. Jackson
5:32PM FEB 21ST 2012
Everyone here at The business Ted started is cheering him on!!!!!! Love the article, I think Stearns and Oelrich are going to do more harm then good for each other. Jett doesn't have enough exposure in the other counties, Teds statement from a business persons perspective which I think is what the people want was great. He has also put himself out there for everyone to hear and see. Love the fact that his picture is the first in line. Go Team Yoho
3:07PM FEB 21ST 2012
This will be a "fairly easy win for Stearns"? Just because he's the incumbent and that always helps, this year is different. I think people (at least I now I am) are looking for someone who hasn't been part of the problem. To say that Stearns will win hands-down is a little premature. I think Ted Yoho will give him a run for his money (literally) as people get to know him better.
2:53PM FEB 21ST 2012
Stearns, while I believe he is probably a good guy and really wants to do good, is simply ineffective and hasn't really stood up and caused commotion in Congress. He's been background noise and we need something a little more substantial if we want to get anything done in Congress. I think this Ted Yoho guy sounds interesting, I'm going to research him a little bit more, but he's looking like the one.
2:43PM FEB 21ST 2012
We have so many problems in Washington that have been in the works for years, why would we possibly even consider voting back in Stearns. As a new district, we have the opportunity to put in some change and not go back to the same old failed policies and politicians. While Oelrich and Jett might not be Washington insiders, they still are career politicians and that is something we need to avoid. I say, go Yoho! I like that he's not a politician, just a regular guy who has the leadership to actually get some stuff done in Congress.
12:12PM FEB 21ST 2012
District 3 needs someone who hasn't become comfortable in Congress. Ted Yoho is ready to fight for our district and for the people. He has been a wonderful vet, and I have heard him speaking. He knows what our county needs.
12:06PM FEB 21ST 2012
I have heard Ted speaking in the Villages. He has great new ideas and he will keep us, the people, in mind once he gets to Washinton. He is a true leader, he has our interest in mind.
12:03PM FEB 21ST 2012
GO YOHO!!!!!!! Ted Yoho is who we need in Washington!!
11:59AM FEB 21ST 2012
A QUARTER OF A CENTURY IN CONGRESS??!??!?!?! THROW HIM OUT!!!! I can't believe some of these guys!!! I get so frustrated and they are completely part of the problem. Go home and get a real job!
Ed B.
11:52AM FEB 21ST 2012
I will start with prefacing that I am a Ted Yoho supporter. I've heard both Stearns and Ted speak and Stearns can't hold a candle to Yoho. I don't know much about Jett but I do know that if he has been a career politician, which it sounds like he is, then he won't get my vote. Oelrich has been a weasel for as long as I can remember. I don't know anything about these so called, "political experts" but they along with the politicians need to go and quit screwing up our country.
Jim B.
9:52AM FEB 21ST 2012
Okay so where did you dig up this self proclaimed leader Geoff Ross that he can be such an authority as to comment on CD19 and CD3 with equal authority? I have never heard of this guy and have been working closely with the Tea Party movement for three years. I guess he is no different than the others who slip out from the baseboard when the lights are turned out.

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