Tom Lee soundly beat Rachel Burgin in the District 24 State Senate Republican primary.
"I always believed in this community and my name and I feel very vindicated tonight," said Lee as he celebrated with supporters at the offices of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce. "We've won by a wider margin than I could have ever expected."
Burgin was not immediately availale for comment.
With all but one precinct reporting, Lee leads Burgin by more than 4,600 votes.
- See update,
The seat is currently held by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, who is running in the Hillsborough County property appraiser race. The winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Belcher in the fall for the right to represent Senate District 24 which includes Brandon, Riverview and Bloomingdale.
One of the most hotly contested Republican primaries in the state, this race had everything from robo-calls to reprimands from the chairman of Florida’s GOP.
See Related Coverage
A former Florida Senate president, Lee called it the “dirtiest campaign I’ve ever been a part of in 20 years in public office.”
Casting herself as David to Lee’s Goliath, Burgin waged a grassroots campaign, relying on local supporters.
Burgin was elected to represent House District 56 — which includes parts of Tampa, Brandon, Riverview, Seffner, Valrico, Gibsonton and Lithia — in 2008, the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the House.
The race seemed to feature controversy from the start with a notable early debate over who former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had or had not endorsed in the race. A Tampa Tribune editorial claimed Bush had endorsed Lee, a claim Burgin vehemently denied. Bush’s staff later cleared up the confusion.
“He’s staying out of that primary,” said Jaryn Emhof, a spokesman for Bush.
Lee was endorsed by a raft of state and local Republican leading lights including Attorney General Pam Bondi, State Attorney Mark Ober as well as Hillsborough County commissioners Al Higginbotham and Sandy Murman.
Last month, a flier impugning Lee mailed to homes in eastern Hillsborough drew a rebuke from the state GOP leaders, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The flier mentioned Lee’s marriage and pictured him alongside Rob Turner who has been embroiled in a sex scandal at the county property appraiser’s office.
“The truth is they have nothing positive to say about their own candidate so they have to resort to running me and my family down,” Lee said at the time. “It may be the only Hail Mary (pass) they have but it doesn’t work; people know me too well in this community.”
Burgin said she didn’t know about the contents of the flier until it arrived in local mailboxes.
“I have some supporters in Tallahassee that are helping me but I didn’t know about the flier. It is out now and it is what it is. It does raise questions that should be answered.”
Burgin banked on her grassroots effort paying off on primary day.
“Clearly I am not the establishment candidate,” Burgin said. “The establishment Republicans have endorsed against me but I have 150 people at the grassroots level working for me who have endorsed me.”
Republicans like their chances in the fall election in the traditionally conservative District 24; in their eyes whoever won the primary will likely win Nov. 6, and that may have been the main reason the race was so contentious.