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Ex-Florida elections chief Laurel Lee launches bid for Tampa Bay-area congressional seat

Her entrance into the race was expected after she resigned from her position as secretary of state.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee speaks at a news conference on Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee. Lee is running for Congressional District 15.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee speaks at a news conference on Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee. Lee is running for Congressional District 15. [ STEVE CANNON | AP ]
Published May 17

Former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee announced Tuesday that she is running for Congress in District 15.

“It was an honor serving Gov. (Ron) DeSantis as his Secretary of State, but I am ready to return home to Tampa and I am excited to throw my hat into the ring and ask my community for their support,” Lee said in a statement.

She cited “skyrocketing gas prices, government overreach at every turn, a failed commitment to our military and securing our borders, and now, disturbing trends from government thinking they know what is best for our children and families” as the issues spurring her run.

Her resignation as secretary of state officially took effect Monday but was announced to county elections supervisors last week.

Before being appointed to secretary of state by DeSantis in 2019, Lee was an assistant U.S. attorney and circuit judge in Hillsborough. Her husband, former Sen. Tom Lee, served 18 years in the Florida Senate, including as its president.

During her tenure as secretary of state, Laurel Lee received bipartisan praise for the state’s handling of the 2020 election and for forming strong partnerships with county elections supervisors.

DeSantis has already announced that he will replace Lee with state Rep. Cord Byrd, a Republican of Neptune Beach who has sponsored some of the most controversial bills in the Legislature in recent years.

Related: Florida Democrats want hearings on DeSantis’ elections pick next week

Lee’s entrance into the congressional race was expected, but it comes as the Republican primary for District 15 has become increasingly crowded, even in just the past few days. On Monday, both state Sen. Kelli Stargel and Army veteran Jerry Torres announced their candidacies for the seat, joining former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, state Rep. Jackie Toledo and another veteran named Jay Collins.

The district is a red-leaning open seat created by the new map drawn by DeSantis’ office during the redistricting process, and that map is currently being challenged in the courts. District 15 encompasses northeast Hillsborough County, including parts of Tampa, as well as southeastern Pasco and a slice of western Polk County.

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