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Florida veteran pledges to spend millions in Tampa Bay-area congressional race

Former defense contractor Jerry Torres says he’s prepared to spend up to $15 million in the crowded 15th Congressional District race.
Jerry Torres, a Green Beret veteran and retired defense contractor, is self-funding his congressional campaign and says he's prepared to spend up to $15 million to get elected.
Jerry Torres, a Green Beret veteran and retired defense contractor, is self-funding his congressional campaign and says he's prepared to spend up to $15 million to get elected. [ Courtesy of Jerry Torres ]
Published May 16|Updated May 16

The crowded Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District is getting a new face, as Jerry Torres, a Green Beret veteran and retired defense contractor, announced Monday he is entering the race.

Torres has never before run for office and just moved to Lakeland about a month ago, he said, after spending the prior few months living in Siesta Key, and before that, near Cape Coral. But he’s willing to go big on his race — he’s already set aside $5 million and is willing to spend up to $15 million if needed, he said.

That figure would rank among the highest sums a candidate has ever dedicated toward a U.S. House race, according to a database of self-funded campaigns by Open Secrets.

“I’m not a good salesman,” Torres, 65, said. “So if I go out and try to sell Jerry Torres as a good candidate for Congress I’m probably not ... going to get the donors.”

“I’m prepared to do it myself because I want to focus on what the district wants,” he added. “Life has been good to me and I just want to give back.”

Torres’ company, Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, generated nearly $1 billion contracting with the federal government and non-governmental organizations, according to a news release, for services including protecting American embassies and bases. He sold the company in 2019, he said.

His family used to all be Democrats, Torres said, and he also did not vote in the 2016 or 2020 elections, saying he was often overseas.

But issues such as illegal immigration, inflation and ensuring teachers don’t “indoctrinate” students, he said, helped turn him into a conservative.

When it comes to student loan debt, Torres said he’s against loan forgiveness but would support measures to make it easier for people pay back their loans without hurting their credit.

”I’ve just kind of backed into this thing,” he said. “I’ve realized the importance of being involved in the decisions in this country.”

The Republican primary for the red-leaning 15th District is shaping up to be highly competitive, with several recognizable names in Republican politics. Other candidates include U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who previously represented much of the same area, state Rep. Jackie Toledo, another Army veteran named Jay Collins plus the rumored entry of Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who just resigned from state government.

The district, as it currently stands in the new map drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and passed by the Legislature, encompasses northeast Hillsborough County, including parts of Tampa, as well as southeastern Pasco and a slice of western Polk County.

Related: State appeal puts Florida redistricting ruling on hold
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