U.S. Representative Cliff Stearns, who led a House investigation into federal aid to solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC, conceded defeat in Florida’s Republican primary, losing to a Tea Party-backed newcomer, Ted Yoho.
Stearns, 71, trailed Yoho, a veterinarian, 34 percent to 33 percent, in a four-way race, figures from the Associated Press show. The top two candidates were separated by 830 votes of 64,000 ballots cast, according to the AP tally today.
“I am disappointed that I won’t be able to continue my investigations of the Obama administration,” Stearns said in a statement. He was bidding for a 13th term.
Yoho, 57, sold his Gainesville-based veterinary practice last year to make his first full-time foray into electoral politics, he said. He credited anti-tax, anti-spending Tea Party groups in Florida with helping him defeat Stearns, state Senator Steve Oelrich and Clay County Court Clerk James Jett.
One Yoho television spot featured three men in dark suits rolling in mud with a voiceover saying, “Career politicians are like pigs feeding at the trough.”
Stearns “talked a good game, but it was his lack of leadership that brought us here,” Yoho said of the congressman during a telephone interview. “Mr. Stearns was there for a quarter of a century and never passed one bill that faced the serious problems of our country: immigration, energy independence, health care or our deficit.”
Yoho will face Democrat J.R. Gaillot, who ran unopposed for his party’s nomination from the North Florida district, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Stearns is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations panel. He led House Republican critics of New York-based Planned Parenthood, a women’s health-service provider, and the $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee awarded to Solyndra. The manufacturer entered bankruptcy two years after receiving the support.
“He let his national profile with the Solyndra investigation get in the way of making sure he was connecting with primary voters,” Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said in a telephone interview.
$2 Million Left
“Otherwise, he wouldn’t have finished with $2 million in the bank and 800 votes short,” Gonzales said, referring to how much Stearns has left in his campaign fund.
Stearns’ investigation into whether Planned Parenthood illegally used government money to pay for abortions led to a decision in February from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization to end about $680,000 in grants to the group. Komen, a Dallas-based advocacy group for those afflicted with breast cancer, reversed its decision after supporters expressed indignation.
The House report on Solyndra said the Energy Department ignored red flags in the company’s finances and that White House officials were interested in promoting the company’s award before the administration review was completed. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has emphasized the probe, saying Solyndra symbolized Obama’s broader shortcomings in trying to revive the economy.
Yoho said Stearns should have known about Solyndra’s financial issues and the politics involved in the aid “before that money was handed out.”
“People are fed up with the ineffectiveness of Washington and the whole process,” said Yoho, whose campaign slogan is “Had Enough?”
In another Florida race pitting a Republican incumbent against a Tea Party-backed challenger, U.S. Representative John Mica defeated Representative Sandy Adams last night in a primary in a redrawn House district near Orlando.
Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had 61 percent of the vote compared with 39 percent for Adams, according to the AP. Adams, in her first term in Congress, had support from Tea Party figures including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
Mica, in his 10th term in Congress, will face Jason Kendall, a self-described fiscally conservative Democrat, in the November general election. Kendall defeated Nicholas Ruiz for the Democratic nomination, 61 percent to 39 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to the AP.