Write-in candidate means only Republicans can vote in March Florida House race in Marion County

Special election to replace Joseph Harding set for March 7

BELOIT, WISCONSIN - NOVEMBER 03: Stickers ready to be passed out to residents after they vote at the Beloit Public Library on November 03, 2020 in Beloit, Wisconsin. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans head to the polls on the last day to cast their vote for incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Scott Olson, 2020 Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The field of candidates is set for a special election in Marion County to replace a state representative embroiled in a federal fraud scandal.

Five Republicans and one write-in candidate have qualified for the Florida House District 24 race, which means there will be a primary election on March 7 and then a general election on May 16.

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House District 24 encompasses part of Marion County, including all of Ocala.

This means voters in this district will not have a replacement state representative in place in time for this year’s 60-day Legislative Session in Tallahassee, which opens on March 7.

If only the five Republican candidates had filed to run for the seat, the March 7 election would have become a universal primary, open to all voters. But because of the write-in candidate, the primary is now closed to only Republican voters. The winning Republican will face Robert “Foxy” Fox.

The five Republican candidates are:

  • Justin Albright: Real estate agent who chaired the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District and brother to current Marion County Tax Collector George Albright.
  • Ryan Chamberlain: Co-founder of a conservative social media platform called True Patriot Network and former congressional candidate.
  • Jose Juarez: A marketing businessman from Ocala.
  • Stephen Pyles: A pain management physician in Ocala.
  • Charlie Stone: A former state representative and a former Marion County commissioner.

Fox, a longtime bail bondsman and private investigator, had challenged Harding for the seat in 2022, but then withdrew because he says he supported Harding’s Parental Rights in Education law, known to critics as the Don’t Say Gay law.

Fox told News 6 that he decided to run as a write-in candidate because he believes that if no Democrat, minor party or independent candidate is going to run, only Republicans should vote in the March election.

He says whether he stays in the race after the March primary or whether he drops out will depend on the winning candidate, but as a Republican himself, he assured voters that a Republican would hold Florida House District 24.

The candidates are all running to replace State Rep. Joe Harding, a Republican who resigned last year after he was indicted on federal fraud charges related to COVID-19 small business loans.

Harding was elected in 2020 and reelected in 2022.

Harding faces charges of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements. In a statement in December, Harding said he had fully repaid the money he took.

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.