Stearns concedes primary race to veterinarian

Political novice pulled 1% ahead of 12-term congressman

Published On: Aug 30 2012 04:21:03 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 15 2012 01:30:22 PM EDT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Twelve-term Florida Congressman Cliff Stearns conceded a tight Republican primary Wednesday afternoon to a Gainesville veterinarian with scant political experience.

Ted Yoho, who ran as a tea party favorite, held a tiny lead over incumbent Stearns in a GOP primary race that was too close to call early Wednesday.

Yoho held a 34 percent to 33 percent lead -- 829 votes -- over Stearns for the Republican nomination for the redrawn 3rd Congressional District seat that now stretches from Clay County to the Gulf of Mexico. State Sen. Steve Oelrich and Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett split the rest of the vote.

Stearns acknowledged that there weren't enough provisional ballots to overcome the small lead his opponent had.

"It has been an honor, privilege and the high calling of my life to serve the many outstanding citizens of Florida in our nation's capital," Stearns said in a statement.

Yoho's campaign manager, Kat Cammack, attributed the upset to Yoho's anti-incumbent message, his appeal to voters who work in agriculture and to a low voter turnout.

Yoho also was aided by the clever television ad and the endorsement of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Johnny Van Zant.

Stearns was seeking a 13th term in Congress from his district, which includes Gainesville and areas northwest of the college town. Yoho is a veterinarian who has promised to leave office after four terms, if he wins.

The winner of the Republican nomination in District 3 will face Democrat J.R. Gaillot and independent Phillip Dodds in November's General Election.

Federal Election Commission records show that Stearns had 16 times more cash on hand than Yoho -- $2 million versus $129,000. But Yoho was helped by a television ad that featured actors dressed as politicians in suits eating from a trough alongside pigs and throwing mud at each other. Yoho told the Tampa Bay Times he was going to "thank God."

"I'm going to do a Tebow right here," Yoho, 57, told the newspaper.

"Cliff Stearns embodied a career politician, the establishment," Yoho told the paper. "He was more concerned about getting re-elected than doing what's right. He's not a bad guy. We just need different leadership."

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. That bankruptcy led to heavy GOP criticism of the Obama administration's energy policies.

In other races, 10-term Congressman John Mica defeated freshman U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams following a tough primary battle that pitted the two Florida Republican incumbents against each other because of redistricting.

Mica won 61 percent to Adams' 39 percent of the vote.

The Republicans faced each other after redistricting put both of their homes in the 7th congressional district, which includes parts of Orlando and areas northeast of the city.

The race featured blistering attack ads that accused each other of not being true conservatives and celebrity endorsements. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee backed Mica while former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin supported Adams, who had the backing of much of the tea party.

Mica described the race as "difficult" but credited a grassroots campaign that was unprecedented for him.

"I can tell you everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at us but I've got to include the cabinets and all of the appliances," Mica told supporters at an election party.

Adams said she had no regrets about how the campaign was run.

"I'm glad I brought the conversation back to conservative values," Adams said.