Election 2024: GOP challenger says U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn not Republican enough for Congress

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The owner-operator of a Panama City insulation company has launched a primary challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, saying the four-term congressman has betrayed the voters of North Florida by siding with Democrats on recent key votes.

Rhonda Woodward, a former elementary school principal, said she wants to go to Washington to represent the state's 2nd Congressional District and be part of a team of patriotic fighters in the battle to scale back the size and power of the federal government.

Woodward taught in Bay County schools for more than 20 years and is now the owner of Koala Insulation Panama City. She said she and others were very displeased when Dunn voted with Democrats to provide military aid to Israel and the Ukraine and keep in place emergency powers for national security put in place after Sept. 11, 2001.

“I feel like I’m not being represented. We’re a highly Republican district and he is voting Democrat just as much as he’s voting Republican,” Woodward recently told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Rhonda Woodward is a candidate in the Second Congressional District's Republican primary for 2024.
Rhonda Woodward is a candidate in the Second Congressional District's Republican primary for 2024.

Woodward told a grassroots political podcast hosted by Air Force veteran Veronica Kemeny, a past Bay County chair for former President Donald Trump’s campaign, that Republicans need to join Matt Gaetz, the member of Congress for the state's far west Panhandle, and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, to stand up for conservative principles in the U.S. House.

Woodward said Gaetz and Green need backup to have impact: “We need more people on that team. We have to elect fighters and I want to be one of those in that group.”

Dunn declined to directly address Woodward's criticism of his voting record and said his chief concern is addressing the Biden's administration "failure to secure the southern border."

"Florida is the number one destination for illegal immigrants," Dunn said in an email. "Under President Trump, we had strong operational control of the border. However, Biden’s policies have undone all the progress we made during the previous Administration and turned every state into a border state.

"I’m working in Congress to restore sanity to our border policy and hold Administration officials accountable for allowing fentanyl, crime, and human trafficking to ravage American communities.”

Congressman Neal Dunn is seeking a fifth term
Congressman Neal Dunn is seeking a fifth term

District 2 is made up of 500,000 voters across 14 counties that extends across the panhandle and the Big Bend. It is the least urbanized district in the state, with half of the residents in Panama City or Tallahassee, and the rest scattered across farmlands and forests.

Dunn is seeking a fifth term. Since winning the GOP nomination in 2016 by a mere 1,700 votes, he has won elections by a 60% margin against a trio of popular Leon County Democrats that included the late former Deputy Attorney General Walter Dartland, former Leon County Commissioner Bob Rackleff, and former Congressman Al Lawson.

In 2020, Democrats didn’t field a candidate and Dunn collected roughly 305,000 votes – or 97.9% – against a write-in candidate.

Dunn supported former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy when lawmakers loyal to Trump sought to oust him. Once McCarthy was deposed, Dunn supported the election of the current speaker, Mike Johnson.

Dunn did vote to oust former Rep. George Santos, and to continue to investigate whether grounds exist to impeach President Joe Biden. He also voted to approve the National Defense Act of 2024, and bills aimed to lower the cost of energy, and to denounce “the horrors of socialism”.

The primary is Aug. 20. Dunn has raised $450,000 for the campaign. Woodward has yet to file a campaign finance report. Democrat Meghann Hovey is unopposed and will face the winner of the GOP in November.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com and is on X as @CallTallahassee.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: It's Rhonda Woodward vs. Neal Dunn for Florida congressional seat