Florida primary shocker: Cliff Stearns' long career may be finished by newcomer Ted Yoho
UPDATE 11:45 a.m. Wednesday: Cliff Stearns is preparing to concede defeat and is calling supporters.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, a longtime incumbent Republican from Ocala, was headed toward a stunning defeat Tuesday, undone by a veterinarian turn tea party candidate named Ted Yoho.
"I'm going to thank God. I'm going to do a Tebow right here," Yoho, 57, said by cellphone from his campaign party at the Pickled Pelican in Gainesville late Tuesday.
The results in Florida's 3rd Congressional District were still unofficial but with most of the vote counted, Yoho was up by more than 800 votes. Yoho, pictured left, had not heard from Stearns and was bracing for a recount but felt confident he had won.
"Cliff Stearns embodied a career politician, the establishment," Yoho said. "He was more concerned about getting re-elected than doing what's right. He’s not a bad guy. We just need different leadership."
Yoho, unknown in Florida political circles until now, has lived in North Central Florida for more than 3 decades. He ran an aggressive campaign against Stearns, including a TV ad showing men in suits feeding from a pig trough (see ad in the jump). Yoho said he had grown increasingly disillusioned with leaders in Washington who were afraid to take on big challenges, such as shoring up Social Security and fixing the immigration system.
"I stand 100 percent behind the tenets of the tea party." he said in an interview.
Stearns had long been a backbencher in career spanning more than two decades. But after the Republican wave of 2010, he ascended to chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, a perch he used to prosecute high profile and partisan probes into Planned Parenthood and Solyndra.
Stearns was running in a newly-drawn district due to redistricting. Yoho now has to defeat a Democratic challenger but the makeup the district is in his favor.
As he spoke on the phone, someone handed him a glass of champagne. He took a sip and said, "It feels really good."
UPDATE 11:35 p.m. From Stearns' campaign: "Since this is a close primary vote and we still need to make sure all voices are heard, we are awaiting the certified results. 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."