State Representative Ross Spano of Brandon will be the Republican candidate running to replace retiring U.S. Representative Dennis Ross.
Spano had a hard fought primary against former state Representative Neil Combee, with the two trading numerous negative campaign ads. But Spano ultimately beat out Combee by more than 10 percentage points. Spano received about 44 percent of the vote to Combee's 34 percent. Lakeland businessman Sean Harper came in third, winning over just 10 percent of Republican voters.
Throughout the primary, Spano has billed himself as a constitutional conservative, allied with the agenda of President Donald Trump. Holding his new-born grandson and with his family beside him, Spano told his supporters Tuesday night that he was ready to bring that message to a wider audience in Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.
"I don't care if you're on the left or the right, what do you want? You want security for your family, you want educational opportunities for your kids, and you want freedom," Spano said.
He faces Democratic candidate Kristen Carlson of Lakeland in the November general election. Carlson, a former attorney for the Florida Department of Citrus, won her primary with more than 53 percent of the vote. Andrew Learned, a Navy veteran from Valrico, trailed far behind in second place with just 31.5 percent.
In a statement, Carlson thanked her opponents for raising important issues and underscored her outsider image.
"I'm committed to fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare and making healthcare more affordable and accessible," the statement read. "Too many people have been left behind by career politicians and DC insiders.”
Although Congressional District 15 is a Republican-leaning district, Spano is not necessarily the immediate favorite. Carlson has so far out-fundraised Spano with the help of national, left-leaning organizations like Emily's List. Democratic voters in the district are also seemingly energized by prospect of flipping a seat held by Republicans for more than 20 years.
To combat a possible "blue wave" in November, Spano said he is ready to work harder than his opponent, spreading what he sees as a bi-partisan message of immigration reform, regulation rollback and the defense of Second Amendment rights.
"This is a suburban, but also rural, agricultural district that leans conservative," he said. "I think we are going to stand strong and stick with the conservative message of freedom, liberty, strong families, limited government, and those are the things that are going to resonate."
Spano said one of the first things he would do after the primary would be to reach out to Carlson and ask for an agreement on running positive campaigns. He also pledged to keep the district representative's main office in Lakeland, hoping to put at ease Polk County voters concerned with losing the county's only U.S. congressional seat.