Twelve-term incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is poised to lose his bid for renomination in an unexpectedly close primary race to a tea party challenger.
As of Wednesday morning, Stearns was trailing political rookie and veterinarian Ted Yoho by about 750 votes in Tuesday's primary election. Yoho nabbed 34.3 percent of the vote to 33.1 percent for Stearns, with two other candidates splitting the remainder. So far, the margin isn't close enough to merit an automatic recount under Florida law.
From his post as chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Stearns has led high profile probes into bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra and into Planned Parenthood. However, these red meat issues weren't enough to sway voters in Florida's third district, many of whom may have been unfamiliar with Stearns. When redistricting carved up northern Florida's congressional map, Stearns moved his residence from his current seat in the sixth district to run in the third.
Stearns has been active on technology and telecom issues. He advocated for an overhaul of the Federal Communications Commission, including cutting the time the agency takes to review mergers. On privacy, Stearns backed measures that would have provided ways for Internet users to opt out of online tracking.
Overall, Stearns spent more than $739,000 on the primary race compared to $169,000 by Yoho. Stearns still has more than $2 million in cash on hand. Stearns drew heavy support from tech and telecom interests. Verizon, AT&T, Cox Communications, Microsoft, Deutsche Telecom, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the National Association of Broadcasters were among the heavy hitters ponying up heavy donations to his campaign.
In 2010, Stearns sought the chairmanship of the full Energy and Commerce Committee when House GOP term limits forced incumbent Joe Barton, R-Texas, to relinquish his gavel. The post ended up going to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
Stearns isn't quitting yet. His campaign put out a statement saying, "Since this is a close primary vote and we still need to make sure all voices are heard, we are awaiting the certified results."