A Republican primary in House District 77 is seeing two veterans at war.
Bryan Blackwell, a former Marine, and Mike Giallombardo, a National Guardsman, are facing off for the open seat. In many ways, the race has pegged the Lee County political establishment against a network of businesses.
Giallombardo, whose campaign was managed by top Lee County consultant Terry Miller, enjoys support from outgoing Rep. Dane Eagle as well as other politicos in the region including Senate candidate Ray Rodrigues and State Attorney Amira Fox.
But Blackwell, the first in the race, had his own support through connections as the immediate past chair of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.
Blackwell ended up raising some $87,055 for the contest on top of $20,000 he put in through a candidate loan. The committee Friends of Bryan Blackwell also slung nearly $152,000 into the race by Aug. 13.
Giallombardo, meanwhile, raised $166,845. Outside groups like Miller’s Just The Facts committee also spent money influencing the race.
For an open race to succeed the sitting House Republican Leader, the campaign felt surprising subdued through most of the year leading into the Aug. 18 GOP primary. But no peace lasts forever.
In recent weeks, the race has turned decidedly more personal, with a political committee tied to Giallombardo’s campaign raising an arrest dating back to when Blackwell was a teenager. At the same time, Blackwell’s camp has spotlighted Facebook posts made by Giallombardo years ago criticizing President Donald Trump during the 2016 election, going so far as to compare the future President to Adolf Hitler.
That makes it one of several races where loyalty to President Trump served as a key issue. That made the appearance of report cards from a group calling itself Team Trump 2020 Florida all the more attention-grabbing. Supposedly measuring how supportive of Trump policies each candidate was, the organization gave Giallombardo an A and Blackwell an F, offering little explanation.
The Giallombardo camp said they had nothing to do with the propaganda, but noted mailers attacking Giallombardo also bore a disclosure from a political committee called Trump Committee.
These issues largely overshadowed any discussion on issues in the contentious race. But policy may play a larger role in the general election, when the Republican nominee faces Democrat Josh Lopez.