Eric Eisnaugle Faces Major Primary Foe

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: February 3, 2014 3:55 AM
Eric Eisnaugle

Eric Eisnaugle

Eric Eisnaugle wants to be speaker of the Florida House in 2021 -- but first he has to get back to Tallahassee and he has drawn a major primary opponent.

The Central Florida Republican is certainly a known commodity in Tallahassee. Eisnaugle was elected to the Florida House in 2008 and he appeared to be moving up in the Republican leadership, including serving as vice chairman of the Economic Development Policy Committee in his second term. He also chaired the high-profile Civil Justice Committee and vice chaired Rules and Calendar.

Eisnaugle was also a favorite of social conservatives. His wife, fellow attorney Carrie Eisnaugle, serves as president of Florida Right to Life.

But, after redistricting, Eisnaugle stepped aside in 2012 in favor of a more senior Republican -- namely Steve Precourt who served as majority leader in 2013. Eisnaugle simply kept running despite taking a pass on 2012. Rolling over the funds left from the 2012 campaign he pulled the plug on, by the end of December 2013, Eisnaugle had raised more than $173,750. He has been very frugal with his money so far, spending less than $9,550.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

The timetable changed when Precourt announced earlier this month that he was leaving the Florida House to take a job with the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. Having never stopped running, Eisnaugle was in a great position to shift to a special election. His efforts paid off to some extent. Eisnaugle kept the likes of Winter Garden City Commissioner Bobby Olszewski and businessman and pastor Ronney Olivera, who ran against Democrat Randolph Bracy for a House seat representing Orange County back in 2012, out of the race.

But Eisnaugle will have a Republican opponent in the March 11 primary. Vicky Bell, a teacher and English professor who served on the Orange County School Board, jumped in the race earlier this month. Bell lost her seat on the school board back in 2012 but she is a major opponent who is strong on education issues, including school choice. Eisnaugle is a favorite here but Bell will not be a pushover by any stretch.

Business owner Shaun Raja will be waiting for whoever wins the Republican primary in the April 8 general election. Raja entered the race at the end of August and he has some interesting ideas on ensuring education will help prepare students for jobs and to help out small businesses. But Raja’s fundraising has simply not kept pace with Eisnaugle. He raised $500 early on and spent almost every cent of it. By the end of November, Raja had $6 in the bank. To his credit, Raja had a better December, bringing in $1,000 and keeping it in all the bank. But, so far, Raja has done next to nothing to show he can be a threat to whomever wins the Republican primary.

Eisnaugle is a strong favorite to hold this seat for the GOP and he’s already dreaming higher and he’ll be a contender to be House speaker after the 2020 elections. He’s not the only candidate in the hunt, with Mike Hill also setting his sights on the gavel. If Eisnaugle wins, look for him to help out Republicans running for open seats in November as he looks to collect pledges for down the road.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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