Jennifer Canady victory party

Lakeland voters chose Jennifer Canady over Phillip Walker today for an open seat in the Florida House of Representatives. In a north Polk House race, Josie Tomkow easily won re-election. A five-way race for Polk County judge goes to a Nov. 8 runoff between top vote-getters John Flynn and Ruth Moracen Knight. In one of the two U.S. House races involving Lakeland districts, Republican Laurel Lee will face Democrat Alan Cohn in the November general election for District 15. Rep. Scott Franklin won the District 18 primary and faces token opposition in the general election.

Turnout in Polk County was 23.45%, with 107,473 votes cast from among 458,210 registered voters.

Florida House District 50: Canady wins

Canady prevailed over Walker by a margin of 63.5% to 36.5% for the open District 50 seat in the House of Representatives. The candidates, both Republicans, stressed conservative credentials in the race, which became a “universal primary” that all registered voters could participate in when no Democrats filed to run for the seat.

The seat represents most of Lakeland; view a district map. It is the similar to the district that was represented for the last eight years by Republican Colleen Burton, who is seeking a seat in the Florida Senate in November after reaching term limits in the House.

Canady, a Lakeland Christian School teacher who has been appointed to several statewide boards, ran under the banner of “Conservative Republican” early on but focused on her teaching experience when the race became a universal primary. She currently heads the science-and-math-oriented RISE Institute at LCS.

Walker, a 12-year member of the Lakeland City Commission and retired insurance agency owner, focused on experience, running under the motto “The Lakeland Leader We Know and Trust.”

Canady, who is well-connected through her own family and as the wife of a Florida Supreme Court justice who served in both the U.S. House and Florida House, raised $326,688 as of last Thursday. Walker raised $79,220 as of the same date.

Jennifer Canady is flanked by daughters Anna, left, and Julia, right, at her election party tonight at Union Hall in Dixieland. | Michael Wilson

Florida House District 51: Tomkow wins

Josie Tomkow

Four-year incumbent Josie Tomkow, part of a north Polk cattle family, sailed to a 67.5% to 32.5% victory over Bill Olson of Davenport. Earlier in the year, Olson had planned to run for U.S. House against Darren Soto, but switched races after conservative east Polk was removed from Soto’s Democratic-leaning district.

The campaign was light on public appearances. Tomkow came to the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce Politics in the Park, but there doesn’t seem to have been any joint appearances at forums. Olson, a security guard and substitute teacher, doesn’t have a campaign website or social media accounts and doesn’t mention his current campaign on his personal Facebook page.

As an incumbent, Tomkow raised nearly $900,000 between her campaign account and political committee, Florida Farmers and Ranchers United. Olson reported $5,100 in contributions, all from outside the district, and a $4,500 self loan.

Polk County Judge, Group 8: Flynn and Knight in a runoff

A five-way race for a vacant seat on the county judicial bench is going to a Nov. 8 runoff between John Flynn and Ruth Moracen Knight after no candidate obtained a majority in today’s voting.

Candidates and their share of the vote were: John Flynn, 35.8%; Ruth Moracen Knight, 19.9%; Carmalita Lall, 9.1%; Adam Patton, 18.9%; and Tara Wheat, 16.3%.

The race was mostly non-controversial until last week. An image promoting Flynn’s candidacy was removed from the Republican Party of Polk County website Friday after questions were raised about whether the promotion violates a state law that no political party “shall endorse, support, or assist any candidate in a campaign for election to judicial office.”

Flynn subsequently criticized Wheat for raising ethics questions and Patton, whose wife asked Lakeland police to check in on a Patriot Club of Lakeland meeting that Flynn attended to see if it might be a legal violation; the police left the meeting when told the group is non-partisan.

There was no incumbent in the race; the previous group 8 judge, Susan Barber, was elected to the circuit court without opposition and will replace Judge Donald Jacobsen, who is retiring. County judges typically hear cases involving criminal misdemeanors, traffic cases and civil cases under $30,000 (That cap rises to $50,000 in Jan. 1). The term of office is six years.

U.S. House District 15: Republican Laurel Lee will face Democrat Alan Cohn in November

In a race getting national attention, Republican Laurel Lee won the party’s nod in the November general election for U.S. House District 15.

Alan Cohn won the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican side, the candidates and their share of the vote were: Demetries Grimes, 10.4%; Laurel Lee 41.5%; Kevin McGovern 8.7%; Kelli Stargel 27.8%; and Jackie Toledo 11.6%.

On the Democratic side, the candidates and their share of the vote were: Gavin Brown, 22.3%; Alan Cohn, 33.1%; Eddie Geller, 21.9%; Cesar Ramirez, 17.4%; and William VanHorn, 5.4%.

In Florida, the candidate with the most votes wins a party primary for Congressional seats. No majority is needed.

There is no incumbent running in District 15, which includes most of Lakeland west of Florida Avenue/U.S. 98N and extends west into suburbs north of Tampa; view a map.

Political analysts say Republicans have a clear edge in the district, but an upset is possible. The three women on the Republican ballot have significant government experience and name recognition while the two men have proven adept at fund-raising despite lower profiles. At one time, former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland was a candidate for this primary, but he withdrew.

U.S. House District 18: Scott Franklin will face independent candidates

Scott Franklin

U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin of Lakeland sailed to easy victory over four primary opponents, winning 73.1% of the vote.

The other candidates and their share of the ballots cast were: Kenny Hartpence, 6.5%; Jennifer Raybon, 10.7%; Wendy Schmeling, 6.7%; and Eddie Tarazona, 3%.

No Democrats filed to run for the seat. In the November general election, Franklin faces two no-party-affiliate candidates: Keith R. Hayden Jr., and Leonard Serratore, who is a write-in candidate.

Franklin, 58, reliably votes the party line in Congress and espouses conservative views, but all of his opponents approached their campaigns from farther to the right.

Though he represents all of Lakeland in his current district, reapportionment put him in a newly redrawn District 15, with includes the portions of Lakeland east of Florida Avenue/U.S. 98 and extends way south to Collier County; see a map.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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