Incumbent Rep. Ted Yoho’s former aide, Kat Cammack, won Florida’s 3rd congressional district Tuesday. The election was marked by unusually high turnout driven by rancor over President Donald Trump’s first term and despite health concerns from the pandemic.
Cammack heads to Washington in the role of young freshman lawmaker in the minority party of the 117th Congress.
The race results in north central Florida tracked closely with the 2016 campaign by Yoho: Cammack, who like her former boss was a strong supporter of Trump’s, slightly outperformed Yoho in five of the six counties across the district. She won with 57 percent of the votes.
“We’re going to work so hard every day to prove that we are a country worth saving and that we are a district that is not for sale,” Cammack said in her victory speech at her election watch party.
Her opponent, Adam Christensen, won more votes only in largely Democratic Alachua County, home to the University of Florida.
The campaign turned ugly briefly in the weeks before the election, after Cammack posted a video online showing high school protesters peacefully holding signs one morning at the end of her family’s driveway in Gainesville. She expressed concern for her safety, calling the group “Antifa protesters” and saying “the radical left has come for me… but I won’t back down!”
Christensen, the Democratic nominee, included her home address in a tweet that he later deleted and dismissed her fears: “Democracy is absolutely terrifying,” he wrote. Christensen said he fielded disturbing calls and voicemails after his phone number was published online on a conservative website.
Cammack, 32, had been expected to win the seat readily, even in an election when Democrats across the country were favored to expand their control of the U.S. House: No Democrat has been competitive in this district since 2010. Christensen said party officials had told him the race was “unwinnable” for him.
A brutal primary in August featured 13 Republicans and was among Florida’s most expensive and competitive. During that race, neither Yoho or Trump endorsed her, although Trump did after she won the primary and brought her to the White House.
Yoho, a veterinarian and the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Asia subcommittee, was first elected in 2012 and said this year he was retiring from Congress. He most recently made headlines in July after a reporter for the Hill newspaper overheard Yoho call Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a f****** b****, after he said he disagreed with her response to crime and policing.
Cammack, who with other Republicans also appeared with Trump at a campaign rally in Ocala last month, cast herself as aligned closely with the president. She expressed support for law enforcement, especially during Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and early fall. She was vocal about her anti-abortion position and promoted preserving gun rights. After her primary victory, she told Trump, “You have reinforcements on the way, sir.”
In a bizarre twist that remains unexplained, Yoho in June had said in a mysterious statement that Cammack was “demoted” in 2013 as his chief of staff and “reassigned” from Washington to a Florida district office for “reasons not to be disclosed.” The statement was later deleted from Yoho’s campaign Facebook account.
Cammack was identified on congressional employment records as Yoho’s chief of staff all during 2013, listed as a part-time employee for more than five years then named deputy chief of staff in August 2019 through the end of the year. Yoho said that Cammack worked for him “in a satisfactory manner” and he would not discuss the matter further.
In addition to working on Yoho’s congressional staff, Cammack ran a political consulting firm, Grit Strategies, that charged Yoho’s campaign $130,160 over the last two election cycles. She also is founder of the Grit Foundation, a nonprofit intended to support first responders, whose leaders donated $20,000 personally to Cammack’s campaign.
Christensen, 27, sought to undermine the credibility of Cammack, who for years has blamed an Obama-era loan modification program as the reason her family lost what she described as a small cattle ranch. Christensen uncovered records showing the family repeatedly took out additional loans on the property, which he said was not a functioning ranch.
Christensen beat two others in the primary, including electrical engineer Tom Wells by 780 votes, or 1.3% of the vote. Christensen runs an analytical laboratory, Essential Validation Services LLC, that conducts testing on essential oils and cannabidiol. He started his campaign collecting signatures with his pomsky puppy, Pummel. His entire political team, except for the campaign chairman and treasurer, were all under 23.
Christensen said he supported free college education, growing small businesses and making health care available to everyone through the government. He also endorsed a “basic income” plan proposed by Andrew Yang to pay every adult a monthly stipend for household expenses.
Christensen spent nearly $100,000 since the primary. Cammack spent nearly four times more in the same time frame – $383,000 – for online ads, direct mail and polling, including an $88,000 ad purchase that her campaign paid on Oct. 1.
The district in north central Florida includes Alachua, Clay, Putnam, Bradford, Union and most of Marion counties.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com