Ardian Zika's standard campaign pitch mentions President Ronald Reagan and his 1987 "Mr. Gorbochev, tear down this wall" speech in Berlin.
Zika, 38, who emigrated from Kosovo, the former Yugoslavia, 21 years ago, says Regan turned him into a Republican at an early age.
One of his opponents, Elle Rudisill, 30, highlighted a different Republican in her appeal to voters. She emphasized her support for President Donald Trump, talked about waiting to attend his recent Tampa rally and included pictures of herself at the 2017 inauguration on her campaign web site.
In the race for the GOP nomination to succeed Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran in District 37, voters picked the gipper – and big bucks – in a big way..
With all 36 precincts reporting, Zika collected more than 57 percent of the vote in the three-way race and will face Democrat Tammy Garcia in November to represent the district that stretches from Little Road in west Pasco to Ehren Cutoff in Land O' Lakes.
"I'm feeling very proud to be an American. America is an exceptional country and this is an exceptional day for our community," Zika said from his watch party at Benedetto's Ristorante Italiano in Land O' Lakes.
The size of the plurality surprised even him.
“I was completely blown away on the margins,” he said.
Zika, a former banker who now has his own business-advisory firm, outspent Rudisill by nearly 10-to-1. He emerged as the favorite among local Republican office-holders and Tallahassee campaign contributors after he kicked off his campaign last year. He raised $227,000 and spent close to $142,000 through Aug. 23 on direct mail, roadside signs, a campaign staff, and high-powered consultants.
He traveled door-to-door to meet voters, but largely bypassed candidate forums and was unresponsive to interview requests until late in the campaign. Tuesday, he greeted voters at a trio of neighborhood/golf course clubhouses in Land O' Lakes, west Pasco and Trinity and then watched the returns with supporters in Land O' Lakes.
Rudill received 25.7 percent of the vote. An assistant state attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit,she ran an underdog campaign in which she raised and spent less than $15,000. She took a leave from her prosecuting job to campaign full-time, an effort that meant knocking on up to 200 doors each day and standing on street corners with her mother waving signs at rush-hour motorists.
The messages from both Zika and Rudisill appeared to resonate with supporters. Zika emphasized his immigration and the career success he attributed to American exceptionalism.
"I like that he had an immigrant background," said voter Sarah Dunlop, 23. "I think it gives him a good perspective on that issue."
Rudisill, a Land O' Lakes native, talked of her roots in central Pasco and never denied her gender could be an asset.
"Rudisill, the lady," said voter Jennifer VanderVere, 45, of Land O' Lakes. "She's from here. She knows the area well."
A third candidate, Ryan Patrick Boney, 45, the safety and training officer for Pasco County Public Transportation, did little active campaigning beyond social media posts. He paid the $1,81 filing fee, but raised and spent nothing else. He received 16.7 percent of the vote.