Kelli Stargel
Kelli Stargel

After 14 years in the Florida Legislature, Kelli Stargel has entered the crowded Republican primary for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the second prominent Lakeland politician to do so.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland is also one of the seven Republicans who have announced for the District 15 seat that will represent most of most of Lakeland west of U.S. 98 North and Florida Avenue and extending westward into Temple Terrace, Lutz and Northdale.

“In Tallahassee, I have fought alongside Governor Ron DeSantis to prioritize Florida’s families, fight for parental choice and ensure our state remains a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world,” Stargel said in an announcement at “It’s easy to say you’ll fight for the unborn, work to expand school choice, or demand accountability for our small business owners, but I’m the only candidate in this race who has actually delivered on these critical issues.”

While the district leans heavily Republican, Stargel’s announcement makes several references to her readiness to fight back against “socialist Democrats” on issues such as Critical Race Theory and “radical gender ideology.”

In addition to Stargel and Ross, other declared Republican candidates include state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa, Army veteran Jay Collins of Lutz, retired defense contractor and new Lakeland resident Jerry Torres, and U.S. Navy veterans Demetries Grimes of Poinciana and Kevin John McGovern of Celebration.

In addition, Laurel Lee of Thonotosassa, who resigned her post as Florida secretary of state last week, is rumored to be joining the race. She appears to be the only likely Republican primary candidate who currently lives in the district, though Congressional candidates are not required to live in the districts they run for.

Democratic candidates include Brandon comedian Eddie Geller, Groveland political consultant Gavin Brown and Riverview Marine veteran Jesse Philippe.

U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, a first-term Lakeland Republican, plans to run to represent the newly redrawn 18th Congressional District, which includes most of Lakeland east of Florida Avenue (an area where he lives) and stretches southward into Hendry County.

Stargel, 55, has reached term limits after serving four years in the Florida House and 10 in the Florida Senate, rising to prominent positions including Senate Appropriations Chair for the last two years.

MORE COVERAGE: Tampa Bay Times | The Ledger | Florida Politics

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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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