Trump calls on Republicans to challenge DeSantis’ lone Florida supporter in Congress

Rep. Laurel Lee previously served as the state’s chief election officer — and refused demands to audit the 2020 election.

Rep. Laurel Lee speaks to reporters following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 31, 2023. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Former President Donald Trump wants a Republican to mount a primary challenge to Rep. Laurel Lee, the lone member of Florida’s congressional delegation to endorse Gov. Ron DeSantis in his unsuccessful bid for president.

Lee, who won a crowded GOP primary two years ago in a safe red district, served as Florida’s top election official under DeSantis and resisted calls by a faction of vocal Republicans and Trump supporters to do a complete audit of the 2020 election in the state. DeSantis at the time also rejected calls for an audit of the results that showed that Trump defeated now-President Joe Biden by three percentage points in the state.

Trump late Sunday night posted on his social media platform that he wants someone to run in the central Florida district against Lee.

“Any great MAGA Republicans looking to run against Laurel Lee in Florida’s 15th Congressional District? IF SO, PLEASE STEP FORWARD!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Lee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Lee endorsed her former boss back in April 2023, before he officially jumped into the race for president. She was the only member of the Florida delegation to do so, with most of the other members backing Trump. The lack of support from Florida’s congressional delegation served as an embarrassing prelude to what turned out to be a lackluster campaign that never caught fire among Republicans.

Lee switched her endorsement to Trump after DeSantis ended his campaign following a distant second place finish in Iowa.

Trump’s call for Republicans to challenge Lee comes roughly a month before the qualifying deadline for congressional races. Currently, no GOP candidates have filed to run against Lee, according to federal campaign finance records.

But the prospect of a Trump endorsement appears likely to be a big motivator for someone to mount a last-minute candidacy.

Jackie Toledo, a former Republican state legislator who came in a distant third in the 2022 primary that Lee won, posted on social media early Monday that she was a “Great MAGA Republican answering the call and ready to serve.”

Lee, a former judge married to former state Senate President Tom Lee, joined the DeSantis administration in 2019 when she was appointed to replace Secretary of State Mike Ertel, who resigned after photographs emerged of him in blackface dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.

She stepped down to run for Florida’s 15th district which was a newly-created, Republican-leaning congressional seat that runs from suburbs just outside of Tampa into a western slice of conservative Polk County.

Lee oversaw the state’s election office as it was repeatedly sued over a series of controversial election laws pushed by DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Legislature, including limits on drop boxes and placing restrictions on the voting rights of convicted felons.

She received threats, however, when she resisted calls for Florida’s 2020 election to be audited from Republicans spurred on by Trump’s false claims of massive voter fraud. She instead insisted that the state’s elections went smoothly and with little problems.

While in Congress, Lee has been a reliable Republican vote, although there have been times that she has split from the stances of some of the state’s more conservative members. Lee, for example, was one of just six Florida GOP members to vote in favor of the $1.2 trillion spending package that kept the federal government open.

Source: Politico