Kelli Stargel announces run for Florida’s open 15th Congressional District

Stargel jumps into a crowded Republican primary for the Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk district.
State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R- Lakeland, greets other Florida lawmakers on Jan. 14, 2020, the first day of the legislative session that year.
State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R- Lakeland, greets other Florida lawmakers on Jan. 14, 2020, the first day of the legislative session that year. [ Times (2020) ]
Published May 16, 2022|Updated May 16, 2022

State Sen. Kelli Stargel, who is leaving Florida’s Senate after the maximum 10-year tenure, announced on Monday her run for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The Lakeland Republican joins a primary crowded with Republicans hoping to fill the open seat, created during the state’s redistricting process. The new 15th district includes parts of northwest Hillsborough, southeast Pasco County and some of Polk, including half of Lakeland.

This past legislative session, Stargel was the Senate sponsor for a 15-week abortion cutoff ban, which made no exception for rape or incest.

“It’s easy to say you’ll fight for the unborn, work to expand school choice, or demand accountability for our small business owners, but I’m the only candidate in this race who has actually delivered on these critical issues,” Stargel said in a statement.

In her announcement, she said she defended parental rights by pushing back on mask and vaccine mandates, and said she defended children from “radical gender ideology.”

Stargel was the sponsor of a bill that banned transgender females from women’s and girls scholastic sports in Florida. Elementary school athletes were excluded from the ban.

Florida’s 15th district leans red, and the district would have voted for former president Donald Trump by 4 percentage points in 2020. However, it’s not as red as the recrafted 13th district, which stretches from north Pinellas down and splits St. Petersburg in two. The divided city makes Florida’s 14th district, currently held by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, more solidly Democratic.

The newly crafted districts, drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and approved by Florida’s Legislature, has caused a reshuffling in Tampa Bay’s congressional races.

In the 15th district, Stargel joins the Republican primary alongside Rep. Jackie Toledo, former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, U.S. Army veteran Jay Collins, Green Beret veteran Jerry Torres, and U.S. Navy veterans Demetries Grimes and Kevin John McGovern, according to the latest federal filings.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee is also rumored to be entering the race. Lee gave her resignation to DeSantis last week and would not comment on her future plans.

Among Democrats, Eddie Geller, a comedian, and Gavin Brown, a political consultant, are running, along with Jesse Philippe, a former Marine. Lilawatie Ramcharran is also running as a Republican, according to federal filings, and Josue Vasquez and Brian Bertges are running with no party affiliation.

Almost none of the candidates running for the seat live in the district boundaries, though candidates for Congress don’t have to live in the district where they run.