Jonny Torres, currently vice chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, has announced he will challenge incumbent chair Deborah Tamargo when the party holds elections next month.
Although the GOP had a big night nationally and in Florida last week, Torres said the results out of Hillsborough were disappointing, and he believes it’s time for a change in leadership.
“Today, we bear little resemblance to the organization we once were,” Torres wrote to party members on Wednesday. “Those of you who don’t miss a meeting know that we’ve been struggling month-to-month to make quorum. We are losing more members than we are adding every month. And we have lost the influence and relevance in the community and among our elected officials that we once had. While we can certainly celebrate our national and statewide victories, locally we did not gain a seat we didn’t already hold, and we have lost an incredibly important seat in State Attorney Mark Ober. As an organization, what do we have to show for the last two years? We have no gains in membership or elected offices, and Hillsborough County was delivered to Hillary Clinton by 31,000 votes.”
“Jonny’s opinions are just — opinions,” Tamargo responded. “They aren’t based in fact. Analytically, we gained votes in the presidential race even though we still lost Hillsborough to Hillary.”
Hillsborough did go big for Clinton last week, but unlike most recent presidential elections, it was not a bellwether for the state, as Donald Trump edged out Clinton by 1.2 percentage points in Florida. Trump received 266,281 votes in Hillsborough County, 18,259 more votes than Mitt Romney received in the county in 2012.
And while upstart Andrew Warren did defeat Ober in the biggest surprise of the night as Torres noted, the Democrats failed in two big House races they thought they had a legitimate shot at winning in the county — with Shawn Harrison defeating Lisa Montelione in House District 63 by 2 percentage points, and Dover’s Ross Spano easily vanquishing Rena Frazier in the House District 59 race.
In the biggest state Senate race in Hillsborough, Republican Dana Young defeated Democrat Bob Buesing by nearly 7 percentage points in the SD 18 seat.
In the only open County Commission seat, Democrat Pat Kemp beat Republican Tim Schock. Schock had easily defeated former longtime commissioner Jim Norman in the August primary. GOP District 1 Incumbent Sandy Murman won another four years by beating Democrat Jeff Zampitella.
Tamargo has led the Hillsborough Republicans since December 2014, when she defeated former chair Deborah Cox-Roush. She said she welcomes all challengers.
“Two years ago, when I decided to run, I and the other board candidates were denied meeting time to declare our intention to run, and denied time to speak about our platforms,” she said. “We were only allotted five minutes at the December election meeting to speak, which included a nomination and second. That was one thing I wanted to change, and did change, to offer new candidates time for their background and platform to be known and understood by the membership.”
Torres works in marketing and advertising. He served as digital director of the Republican National Convention in 2012, was the the regional field director for the Republican Party of Florida, and worked on Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s successful campaign victory over Alvin Brown in 2015.
He said he intends to soon unveil his plan to recruit and develop candidates with a nine-course candidate training, “featuring local, state, and national experts.”
The election will take place Dec. 20.