By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
CORAL GABLES—It took only a margin of a few hundred votes to topple a powerful 24-year incumbent of Capitol Hill.
That was the fate of U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, of District 6, by political newcomer and large-animal veterinarian Ted Yoho of Gainesville on Tuesday night in the 3rd district’s GOP primary.
The latest returns showed Yoho with an 831-vote advantage over Stearns, outpacing fellow GOP challengers state Sen. Steve Oelrich of Gainesville and Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett, who both received less than 20 percent of the vote total.
“I’m going to thank God. I’m going to do a Tebow right here,” Yoho told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday night after learning of his victory.
“Cliff Stearns embodied a career politician, the establishment. He was more concerned about getting re-elected than doing what’s right. He’s not a bad guy. We just need different leadership,” said Yoho.
The 57-year-old political novice has sent ripples through the Republican establishment in Florida, renewing the tea party spirit doused by the victory of U.S. Rep. John Mica, of District 7, who won out over fellow incumbent U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, of District 24.
“It was a bag of mixed results for the tea party last night,” said CF 13 News political analyst Frank Torres. “They had a highly nationalized race between Adams and Mica that turned into a disappointment, but after they lost that one, Yoho delivered a narrow victory over Stearns.”
“This provides confirmation that the tea party still has a pull in Florida, and incumbents still have to be wary about their agenda and their concerns,” said Torres.
At the heart of the primary campaign was Stearns’ long stay in Congress, reiterated in Yoho’s memorable ad depicting Stearns as a pig on a farm.
“Career politicians, they’re like pigs feeding at the trough. Career politicians got us in this mess and all they do is throw mud at each other,” said Yoho in the ad.
He also declared that, “after 8 years in Washington, I’ll come home,” echoing a similar promise first made by Stearns during his initial 1988 run for office.
“I believe in term limits and I’m going to abide by it myself. I plan to be out of the House after 12 years,” Stearns told the St. Petersburg Times in 1988.
His 12-term, 24-year streak ended on Tuesday night, but the congressman remained upbeat about his record in the nation’s capital.
“I stand proud of my 24-year record of conservative leadership and of defending our traditional values in Congress,” Stearns said in a released statement.
“There is so much left to do in conducting oversight over the White House and the president’s growing expansion of government into our lives.”
As chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee in the Committee on Energy, Stearns became a recognized national figure and fighter for the conservative cause.
He began detailed hearings on the bankrupted company Solyndra, which received $535 million in politically connected federal loan guarantees, and led investigations into the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health nonprofit organization.
Despite his highly charged agenda and skilled maneuvers on Capitol Hill, the changing of the tide and the backlash against incumbent lawmakers proved fatal to Stearns.
“Cliff Stearns did what Mica did not do,” said Torres. “He took the politically lenient road of avoiding a direct primary challenge with fellow incumbent (U.S. Rep. Richard) Nugent and it went the other way. He paid the price.”
“It’s a cautionary tale: incumbents should stick with their first instincts when it comes to picking districts.”
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