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What you need to know about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

Congressional Candidate Reports Break-In At Florida Campaign Headquarters

Police have their guns drawn
Three unidentified Gainesville Police Department officers, with guns drawn, search for an intruder reported in the campaign headquarters of Kat Cammack, a leading Republican candidate in the 3rd Congressional District in Fla., on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Political intrigue overshadowed a congressional election in Florida on Monday, after a leading Republican candidate reported a mysterious, late-night break-in to her campaign headquarters.

Kat Cammack, the former deputy chief of staff to incumbent Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said election staff discovered an unidentified intruder sleeping inside Sunday night in northwest Gainesville after they returned from campaigning. The intruder fled as her staffers called the police.

The person was initially found sleeping on a couch, said Faith Allen, a campaign spokeswoman, and left behind a comb, half-eaten vanilla Oreo cookie and some change. She said police were still investigating Monday.

Dramatic video on the candidate’s Facebook page showed three municipal police officers drawing their pistols while searching the campaign’s interior rooms, peeking over and around cubicle walls. “Gainesville police! If you’re inside, make yourself known,” one of the officers shouted.

“The situation was quickly resolved, and thankfully everyone is safe,” Cammack said in a statement. The campaign said nothing appeared to be missing.

Cammack, who often campaigns wearing a Trump hat, praised police and used the incident to push back against critics of police abuses and calls to reduce funding for police departments after so many deaths and injuries caught on video, such as the suffocation of George Floyd, which reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked nationwide protests.

In a statement Monday, she called the incident “a reminder of the importance of having a fully funded, well equipped, and fully staffed police department.”

Gainesville police spokesman Graham Glover said the intruder was gone when officers arrived, and it was unclear how the person got inside. He said police were treating the incident as a trespass case, not a burglary, since nothing appeared to have been stolen.

"There's a lot of speculation right now,” Glover said.

Cammack is among 17 candidates running in the 3rd Congressional District for the seat held by her former boss, who is retiring. She is among the top three candidates in money raised from donors and spent on the election so far, behind corporate executive Judson Sapp and physician James St. George, all Republicans.

At least one supporter on Cammack’s Facebook page compared the incident to the 1972 Watergate break-in, when Republican operatives burglarized the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in a political scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Cammack, who is married to a firefighter, runs a charity, the Grit Foundation, to support area first-responders. She also is listed as president of Grit Strategies, a political consulting firm that Yoho paid nearly $10,000 through December, and her family runs American Grass Assassin, a small lawn care business.

Yoho has declined to endorse any of the Republican candidates vying for his seat, although his adult son, Tyler Yoho, said last month he supports candidate Gavin Rollins. Tyler Yoho said at the time that Cammack was “fired or replaced or reassigned, or whatever the heck you want to call it,” which led his father to clarify in a statement that Cammack had been demoted in Washington and reassigned to Florida “for reasons not to be disclosed.”

Allen, the campaign spokeswoman, said she was unaware of any other break-ins in the area. Most property crime in the area involves thefts from cars. Property crime in Alachua County fell 17% last year from the preceding year, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at lruiz@freshtakeflorida.com