Oviedo— Republican voters were treated to the last debate between the congressional candidates in Congressional District 7 prior to the primary election on August 23rd. At the end of the event, The Floridian, which hosted the event with the Seminole Republican Women Federated group, conducted a poll of the 300 attendees to the event who favored combat veteran Cory Mills and Navy Seal Brady Duke. (Poll results below)
Attendees who went to the event were expecting to see all 8 primary contestants, but instead only saw 6 – Well, really only 5 contestants. State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-FL) and Erika Benfield did not attend despite committing to the debate prior. Seats were left for the two candidates in case they changed their minds in the final hour. Rep. Sabatini backed out before the event, while Benfield just didn't show up.
Both candidates were seen at a Volusia County event prior to the debate.
Therefore, those who took the stage at the 7 o’clock starting time included Brady Duke, Ted Edwards, Cory Mills, Al Santos, Rusty Roberts, and Scott Sturgill. Sturgill was at the same event with Sabatini and Benfield, and to his credit, made his way to the debate.
When it was announced that Sabatini backed out of the debate, one man yelled out "Absentini Sabatini!" The catchy term was coined during the recently 2022 Florida legislative session, after Sabatini was accused of missing a large swath of votes. Many fellow Republican lawmakers ridiculed Sabatini for his absences in the Florida House of Representatives.
The biggest expected fireworks of the night happened within the first 3 minutes when Al Santos attempted to accuse The Floridian of “Fake News” despite the fact that we haven’t written any stories about him or his campaign outside of our Sunshine State summit debate coverage.
As Santos read from a prepared statement, moderator Javier Manjarres shut him down, and as Santo left the stage exited, Manjarres can be heard telling him that he showed utter disrespect to the 300 attendees who came to hear him and the others debate. This was a botched political stunt.
Santos won the award for the biggest petulant child and embarrassed himself.
And then there were 5.
Despite the political stunt at the beginning, disagreements were kept to a minimum. Without the presence of firebrand Sabatini, the candidates continuously repeated their track records in order to use the time allotted to them. Perhaps the biggest disagreement was whether candidates should live in the congressional district and if they actually lived in the district.
There was also some banter considering attack ads, whether they were from candidates themselves or political action committees (PACs), including some accusations thrown Brady Duke’s way.
When asked about his ads including negative material concerning Mills, Duke responded to Mills' rebuttal was a quote from St. Augustine – “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
Mills has been accused of being a carpetbagger because he owns a home in McClean, Virginia, but now lives in New Smyrna Beach. According to Mills, he and his wife recently rented a home and registered to vote in the district. Duke divulged that he and his family only recently moved to the district and were currently renting a home.
How is that any different than what Mills did?
The other candidates all live in the district. Edwards says that he has two homes, one being in the district and the other one, where he resides, is in the old District 7.
Congressional candidates are not mandated to live in the district they are running in, nor are members of Congress.
4- Rusty Roberts
Of the 300 attendees, 172 Likely Republican voters from District 7 participated in the poll. The candidates were not told of the poll until moments before the debate began. The reasoning for this was to prevent candidates from "stacking the deck" by sending volunteers to take the poll, as they have previously done at local straw poll events. All the participants in the poll were registered Republican voters in Seminole and Volusia Counties. The Seminole Women handed out the ballots and retrieved them at the end of the. After tallying up the votes, the final count was given to Seminole Republican Women's President Joy Ashlock who announced the winner. Moderator Manjarres did not have access to either the ballots or the final vote count.
It is interesting to note that Sabatini was calling Ashlock as the debate wrapped up, demanding that she called her. Also, after his political stunt, Santos walked off the stage and sat in the audience with his wife the entire duration of the debate. Several individuals were seen wearing Santos campaign shirts, but only two votes were cast in his favor. Those votes were presumably cast by Santos and his wife.
Brady Duke – Standing at a height certainly exceeding 6’5” and called a ‘scary-looking dude’ by Mark Levin at a previous debate, Duke made sure to remind the voters that he was a Navy SEAL. As part of his stump speech, the veteran usually related his approach to public policy to his time in the SEALs.
Ted Edwards – Perhaps the most fiscally conservative candidate in the race, Ted Edwards was not afraid to let everyone know that he is dedicated to limiting the nation’s debt, closing the border, and limiting spending.
Cory Mills – After receiving the endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and with the absence of Sabatini, Mills was undoubtedly the man to beat on the stage on Wednesday night. Early on in the event when some attacks were thrown his way, he responded with “I guess these guys have seen the recent polls.” The fast-talking combat veteran boasted his geopolitical experience and said he is against getting into more endless wars.
Rusty Roberts – As someone that had “stood on the white house lawn” as foreign agreements were signed in the 80’s, Roberts was able to boast experience working with the Reagan administration as a staple of his campaign. Roberts also admirably and graciously embraced his opponents during his closing speach.
Scott Sturgill – Sturgill was not shy to remind the constituents that he owns a business and that businessmen “have to make tough decisions” especially when it comes to public policy. Boasting the fact that he was born and raised in Seminole County, Scott Sturgill’s main slogan is that “We need more adults in Washington,” as he vies for the congressional seat. Sturgill quickly invoked his slogan moments after Santos left the stage pouting.
Publisher Javier Manjarres contributed to this story.