Lawrence McClure won a convincing victory in the hard-fought Republican primary for the state House District 58 special election on Tuesday.
McClure took 55 percent of the vote to Yvonne Fry's 45 percent, in unofficial returns.
McClure attributed his win to "a team, family and friends and neighbors that believed in the conservative message. And I have the best wife in the world."
The results reflected an unexpectedly high turnout of almost 21 percent of the district's 31,669 registered Republicans, but also an unexpectedly dirty campaign.
"I don't think anybody wanted it to get to where it got, and it's tough on candidates and their families," McClure said.
Asked whether he might seek new laws to change the nature of campaigns, he said, "Yes, I think we need to take a look at a variety of things."
Fry said of the outcome: "We ran a great race, and I'm proud of our supporters and the message we carried on issues, experience, a vision for our community and our state — I think those are what matter."
McClure will face three other candidates in a general election Dec. 19: Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and no-party affiliate Ahmad Hussam Saadaldin. The Republican will be heavily favored in the GOP-leaning district, where Donald Trump won by 10 points and Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama in 2012.
The winner will replace former Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, who resigned from the seat citing health and business reasons.
The vote capped a brief, whirlwind campaign shortened by Hurricane Irma, which forced the candidates to stand down for a week.
Much of the campaign was conducted by outside committees that kept their sources of funding hidden. One sent almost daily mailers on behalf of McClure, tarring Fry as a liberal, pro-tax, anti-gun candidate who didn't support Trump, charges she denied.
Fry's camp blamed that on McClure's campaign manager, Anthony Pedicini, who has close ties to the state Republican Party and GOP legislative leaders. McClure denied any knowledge of the committee's activities.
Insiders had considered Fry the favorite. She's a lifelong Plant City resident with a long history of civic and community activities in the rural and small-town district, where politics is personal.
She boasted endorsements from dozens of prominent Plant City residents, including Raulerson, plus prominent local Republicans including former Gov. Bob Martinez and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Fry founded and operates two businesses, one in telecommunications and one in marketing.
McClure, originally from South Tampa, whose environmental services firm is based there, now lives in Dover and claims district roots because he married into the multi-generation Newsome family of Plant City.
McClure adopted positions on issues closer to those of the Republican state House leadership under Speaker Richard Corcoran, while Fry differed on issues such as gun rights. McClure appeared to get backing from legislators on Corcoran's House leadership team in the form of contributions from their political committees, plus employees and clients of Corcoran's brother, prominent lobbyist Mike Corcoran.
Contact William March at [email protected]