Yoho pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Florida politics when he beat Cliff Stearns in the Republican primary back in 2012. But Yoho only beat Stearns by 829 votes and 66 percent of Republicans didnt vote for him in the primary. Yoho refused to vote for John Boehner for speaker of the House, made nice with Rand Paul instead of presidential hopefuls from Florida like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, and often breaks with the GOP on foreign affairs. Add in a few gaffes on Yohos end and the chances of beating him in the primary were at least plausible. Certainly, the Republican establishment had plenty of reasons to want to knock Yoho off and could have lined up against him.
Enter Jake Rush, an attorney who served as a deputy for the Alachua County sheriffs office. Rush wasnt exactly the ideal choice for the establishment to rally behind since he came from Gainesville, Yohos backyard. Yoho would have been more threatened by an opponent from Clay County -- where 40 percent of the district lives -- who had military ties. Clay County Republicans have a different take on foreign policy than Yoho and Paul do. Its why Newt Gingrich, of all people, carried Clay County back in the 2012 primary.
Rush got in the race back in February and started off with a bang, with around $158,500 in contributions in the first six weeks of his campaign and kicking in $43,100 of his own money during that time. Yoho proved against Stearns that a little money can go a long way in the largely rural North Florida district. It appeared Rush was shaping up as a threat to the congressman.
Then it all fell apart for Rush. Photos emerged of Rushs role-playing hobby which ranged from laughable photos of the candidate co-playing as a superhero to various vampire costumes and even incorporating some sinister elements, including Rushs comment about putting on my rape face.
All of a sudden, Rush went from contender to pretender against Yoho. After the news about Rush's role-playing -- and more importantly the photos -- went public in April, all momentum was sucked out of his campaign. Rush never quite knew what to do about how to handle the negative publicity. Sometimes, Rush embraced it, proudly claiming he was a geek and even appearing on Stephen Colberts show to weigh in on it. Other times, Rush said the Yoho camp was behind it as a dirty trick.
Needless to say, Rush lost all traction with fundraising. He raised around $15,000 in the second quarter of 2014, less than a tenth of what he had done in the month and a half before the news broke. Rush had to rely on around an extra $36,800 he loaned his campaign. Whatever misgivings the Republican establishment has about Yoho, theyre certainly not going to put their chips behind a vampire role-player.
Over the last few weeks, Rush has tried to get his groove back by attacking Yoho on everything ranging from voter rights to foreign policy. Rush also called out Tyler Yoho, the congressmans son, getting a congressional internship despite some past problems with the law. This week, Tyler Yoho apparently had enough and called on Rush to stop bringing him up. Rush released a public letter in which he said Tyler Yoho only got the position because his dad was a congressman.
Somehow, Rush bungled the open letter and his campaign team did a major disservice to their candidate by not doing a good job of editing it. Rush advised Tyler Yoho to delete his Facebook account. Of course, Rush tried to scrub all the various embarrassing photos.
If you've seen the false hype that your father's Dark Lord of Florida Politics smear team generated off of a photograph of me acting for charity, imagine what an employer might think of your public Facebook, Rush advised Tyler Yoho, somehow missing the irony that he went on Comedy Central to talk about his role-playing.
Even worse, Rush fell into the trap of making vampire references. Dark Lord is a term often associated with the legendary vampire Dracula, most notably in the popular Castlevania video game series by Konami. The close was just as bad. Feelings of immortality are expected in young adults; they are misplaced in freshman congressmen, Rush wrote, oblivious to feelings of immortality also being expected in vampires.
Though he tried to score a few points off the congressman in the letter, Rush should have kept his fire on Yoho instead of going after his son. At the very least, Rushs campaign team should have kept advising Tyler Yoho on Facebook, and words like Dark Lord and immortality out of the letter altogether. Rush has less than six weeks to go until the primary. Getting into a squabble with Tyler Yoho only wastes time. Rush needs much more than that if he is going to turn it around.
Rush had $158,337 in the bank at the end of June, far behind Yohos $455,805. While he has some radio spots already lined up and continues to go on the attack, Rushs weak second-quarter fundraising should seal his fate.
Despite his campaign becoming something of a punchline, Rush could have been a contender had he played his cards right. Instead, Ted Yoho looks ready to drive a stake through Rushs electoral ambitions.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.