POLK COUNTY, Florida — The race for State Senate District 22 in 2018 has been a heated one. In fact, incumbent Kelli Stargel says it's been one of the toughest campaigns she's ever run.

  • Stargel facing Democratic candidate Judge Bob Doyel
  • District covers northern Polk, southern Lake counties
  • Stargel endorsed by Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, Doyel by former President Obama

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Kelli Stargel is fighting to hold her seat against former judge Bob Doyel.

Stargel, who has served in the state legislature for 10 years both in the House and the Senate, hopes voters will choose her to serve her district for another term.

“I think I have a track record of showing I care about this county," Stargel said. "I care about this state. Things that I have worked on, that we have done that have made life better for people in Polk County.”

With the current political divide, however, Stargel admits meeting constituents hasn't always been easy in this cycle.

“I hope in the future we will have a much more civil opportunity to discussing things in the future, but it has been a tough campaign,” Stargel said. 

The challenger

Doyel is a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. He’s also a former law professor and family court judge.

Doyel said he’s running because he doesn’t approve of Stargel’s performance, especially when it comes to education. 

“Our students aren’t getting the resources they need and the teachers aren’t being paid what they need," he told us. "She’s the primary cause, I think, of the problems we have in our funding and our legislation regarding schools, and I got into it for that reason because I thought I could beat her.”

Both candidates have high profile endorsements. Stargel has the support of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. Doyel, meanwhile, has been endorsed by former President Barack Obama.

The pot question

While speaking to both candidates, we asked them to articulate their positions on a particularly polarizing issue for Floridians: legalizing recreational marijuana.

Predictably, the candidates' positions fell on opposite sides of the debate.

“I don’t support recreational marijuana," Stargel said. "but I do support medical marijuana."

"When it comes down to legalizing marijuana, I will be in favor of that," Doyel said, basing his position on his belief that criminalizing marijuana has not worked for the state, and that taxing legal marijuana could be beneficial.