Florida Republicans are chomping at the bit to win back House District 44 in Central Florida.
The GOP lost the seat to former state Sen. Geri Thompson who returned to the Florida House with her win last year. But Republican Lee Steinhauer hopes to win the seat back and said the GOP has a slight registration advantage there.
“I think it is a special district. It’s very unique,” Steinhauer told Florida Daily. “I mean you have Disney World, Universal, Sea World, Horizon West which is the fourth or fifth fastest growing master-planned community in the United States. There is so much going on in the district that I think Republicans really, really do want it back. I still think it is a Republican district.”
Thompson thinks this is part of the reason why she will win.
“I think their mindset is that they own the seat which is inaccurate,” she said.
The former state senator heads into this election not having raised a lot of money yet. That should change after a week of committee meetings in Tallahassee.
Thompson told Florida Daily her years as a senator representing part of the district helped her last time out.
“They’re going to have a steep hurdle because they are relatively unknown. This time, I am going to have the power of incumbency. So I think it is going to be very challenging,” she said.
Thompson added she believes she has put in the work, including her efforts to crack down on distracted driving, it takes to earn another term.
“The majority of Floridians realize that distracted driving is as dangerous if not more so than driving under the influence. So I’ve heard nothing but very positive comments from people since the legislation passed and became effective July 1, that it would make our streets safer,” she told Florida Daily.
There is a field of Republican challengers that will face off in the August primary.
Steinhauer is a government relations expert for the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando and a small business owner. His top issue is school concurrency.
“I would definitely like to look at legislation that would target how much we would allow a school to be over capacity without it being relieved,” he said. “It’s an issue that is frankly probably 1,2, and 3 on most people’s minds, especially those that have children.”
Steinhauer has not been in the race long enough to have filed a campaign finance report, so how much money he has and can raise is still up in the air.
Currently leading the money chase is Bruno Portigliatti, the president of Florida Christian University. He has already raised more than $50,000.
Portigliatti has run for the seat before, losing the Republican primary back in 2016. He took some shots at Thompson’s leadership.
“The voters are looking for an honest broker that can really represent their interest, and they don’t want career politicians anymore,” he said. Portigliatti also chastised Steinhauer for not having lived in the district that. His main priorities include cutting regulation and red tape for small businesses.
“What I want to continue to do is to make sure that we maintain that business-friendly environment, because I think we are already ahead of the game when it comes to bureaucracy compared to a lot of different states,” he said.
The final challenger is Frank Blanco, a legislative staffer for former state Sen. Steve Oelrich. Blanco touts that legislative experience as one of the reasons he is a better choice for the GOP to run against Thompson.
“I am very fiscally conservative,” Blanco said. “I believe in the Second Amendment wholeheartedly without exception. I also believe people are entitled to basic liberties.”
Calling it a “dirty word,” he said he is the most libertarian of the Republican candidates. One place where Blanco did not toe a libertarian line was immigration, insisting the state needs to do more to align with President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. This includes mandatory E-Verify, a proposal Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott proposed when they first for governor only to abandon in Tallahassee thanks, in large part, to the opposition of the business community.
“I think that is a great idea. It might be a little bit of a burden to small business owners, but I think at the end of the day if we use E-Verify, it definitely improves to process of getting people to cooperate with our immigration laws,” Blanco told Florida Daily.
All of the candidates agree that growth and education will be the two biggest issues for voters. Expect a lot of attention by both parties next November to win this competitive seat which includes parts of Orange County.
While Republicans make up 35 percent of the district and Democrats make up 33 percent of it, Trump did not do well here in 2016. Hillary Clinton pulled 51.6 percent of the vote here while Trump took 43.7 percent.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.