Veteran U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns appears to have lost his congressional seat Tuesday, trailing tea party favorite and political newcomer Ted Yoho by 839 votes in a four-way race for Florida's 3rd Congressional District.
With all precincts reporting, Yoho had 34.3 percent of the vote to Stearns’ 33.1 percent. State Sen. Steve Oelrich and Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett split the rest of the vote.
It appeared the margin was beyond the level that would trigger a recount, but the results were not finalized Tuesday night.
"We had a message that resonated with the common man," Yoho told the News Service of Florida. "We've had enough... Had enough of Washington standing in the way of job creation, had enough of politicians undermining our constitution and had enough of the career politicians, who've created this mess, insisting they're the only ones who can get us out of this."
Stearns was seeking a 13th term in Congress from his district, which was redrawn earlier this year and now stretches from Clay and Bradford counties all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The long-time Ocala resident bought a home in Fleming Island just to have presence in the district.
Stearns was first elected to Congress in 1988 and has been serving as the chair of an investigations subcommittee for the House Energy and Commerce committee. In that job, Stearns launched a probe to determine if Planned Parenthood improperly spent public money on abortions. Planned Parenthood says taxpayer money is strictly separated. The breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, cited the probe when it decided to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. The charity reversed course after the decision ignited a firestorm of criticism.
He also headed the congressional investigation into Solyndra Inc., a solar energy company that received a half-billion dollar federal loan and later went bankrupt.
Yoho is a Gainesville veterinarian who has promised to leave office after four terms, if he wins.
While Jett and Oelrich had taken shots at Stearns over months of campaigning, Yoho had a low profile until last weekend, when a television ad began airing that featured actors dressed as politicians in suits eating from a trough alongside pigs and throwing mud at each other.
The winner of the Republican nomination in District 3 will face Democrat J.R. Gaillot and independent Phillip Dodds in November's General Election.