In downtown Panama City, 20 volunteers for Florida House candidate Brian Clowdus’ campaign gathered at his headquarters on a Saturday morning in late July before heading out into 100-plus degree temperatures. Your goal? To connect with voters in the solidly red county. Clowdus didn’t start his campaign with name recognition. And he’s had to rely on door-knocking and his ties to local GOP members to get his message across to voters.
“It’s not about your typical raise a lot of money, do a lot of media buys, stick signs on every corner. It’s about the grassroots, the volunteers, going out and knocking on doors.”
Bay County voters will choose their next representative in the Florida House on Primary Election Day on August 23rd. The two candidates running for House District 6 are Republicans: County Commissioner Griff Griffitts and political newcomer Brian Clowdus. Any voter, regardless of party, can vote in the race. While Griffitts has name recognition and more money, Clowdus has knocked on thousands of doors across the county and has the support of many local GOP members.
“How many doors have we knocked on so far?” asked a volunteer. Clowdus responded that they had received more than 17,000 calls since launching their campaign last spring.
Bay County resident Jodi Moore is a Clowdus campaign volunteer. She says she got behind him after hearing him speak at a rally in Lynn Haven last spring.
“And I said, who is this guy?” he said. “I’d never seen him before, never met him, but I liked what he had to say: God and guns and liberty and freedom, so I was all for it.”
Before launching a campaign, he also volunteered with the local GOP to support former President Trump in 2020. That’s how he met Liz Maclean, who is an active volunteer in his campaign.
“When he decided he was going to run, I knew from my direct experience working with him and him working alongside me that he was very capable and very sincere.”
Clowdus says his campaign is about listening to voters
In fact, that’s how Clowdus got inspired to run. He says when he went door-to-door in 2020, he became concerned when residents told him they felt their elected officials weren’t listening to them.
“When I was knocking on doors with the Trump campaign, I kept hearing it repeated here in Bay County, there was this good guy system. People were handpicked for roles. No one really runs for office. It’s based on your last name. And I said well, that doesn’t sound right. To me, someone who’s just bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, knocking on doors. I kept hearing that over and over.”
GOP candidate Brian Clowdus visits this Panama City neighborhood to share his platform with voters and hear their concerns on Saturday, July 30, 2022.
Covering a large amount of ground is no easy task in Bay County, where many homes are spread far apart. Clowdus says his strategy is to divide and conquer. In a neighborhood north of Springfield, Clowdus won a new supporter after chatting with Republican voter Gloria Lopez, who was standing in his yard when he arrived.
“I’m very passionate about making sure that all of Bay County has a voice, has a representative,” Clowdus told Lopez. “I think we need people who are not politicians in office. We need to change things.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” he agreed.
“Do you want a sticker?”
“Sure,” she replied enthusiastically.
“And I’d love to put a sign in your yard.”
“That would be wonderful,” he said.
Clowdus says he plans to represent the district the same way he has campaigned: listening to voters and putting their concerns first. That’s why he decided to run.
Some of these priorities include protecting the environment, increasing funding for education and affordable housing, supporting “constitutional production” and expanding parents’ rights to education.
Clowdus and his opponent Griff Griffitts strongly agree on the issues. The difference between them lies in their background and campaign style. Griffitts – who did not respond to an interview request for this story – explained at a recent candidate forum that voters should choose him because of his experience in public office.
“I’ve been your county commissioner for six years. The last three and a half years during some of the toughest times I think this county has ever faced.”
Griffitts was referring to the county’s recovery from Hurricane Michael, the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent wildfires. Campaign finance records show Griffitts has also raised nearly four times more for his campaign than Clowdus. Clowdus, on a dig at Griffitts, recognizes that the odds are against him.
“I knew there would be a hand-picked candidate. I knew he would never raise the amount of money they did. I knew he wouldn’t rack up the local endorsements, but I’m proud of that.”
Democrats also have a say in the Republican primary because only the Republican Party has candidates in the race. Bay County Young Democrats President Matthew Bays says they couldn’t find a candidate who had time to run in this election, and many Democrats remain undecided.
Bays says he likes Clowdus’ stance on the environment, but takes issue with his claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.
Clowdus has publicly denied the 2020 election results, including on Twitter.
“Brian Clowdus seems to have fully bought into the big lie, the false claim that Donald Trump won the election,” Bays said. For every Republican who elects him, I think he’s becoming more unacceptable to many more Democrats.”
Clowdus’ evolution into a conservative
In “An Open Letter to Brian Clowdus,” Lilliangina Quiñones details the racial insensitivities she says occurred while working with Clowdus.
Clowdus has a long career in theater as a performer, director and producer. He says he spoke about his politics during former President Trump’s time in office. Amid the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, he was accused of racist hiring practices while he was director. Clowdus issued a public apology and promised to do better. Several former employees posted their complaints on social media. None of them could be reached for comment. One of them shared his experience in a Facebook post titled “An Open Letter to Brian Clowdus”.
“Taking these things out of context as random, you know what he called these microaggressions and stuff, and painting me as this horrible racist human,” he said. “None of this is true. I’m not going to apologize for something I know in my heart isn’t true. And I’m not going to bow down to the woke mob.”
Clowdus says this is how his evolution as a MAGA supporter began.
“Because lord knows if you can go through that and still be outspoken about your politics. I was like, what do I have to lose? Everyone already thinks I’m a horrible human being. You know what I mean. So go with it.”
Clowdus says her views align with many of the leading voices within the pro-Trump faction of the GOP, including Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens and former Gov. Ron DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, who is now DeSantis campaign spokesman. Clowdus, who is openly gay, says he sees no problem with the new bans on classroom teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and when it’s done in a way that doesn’t consider ” age appropriate.” Critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” law. It is officially titled the “Parents’ Rights to Education Act.” When he first heard the news, he says it didn’t seem like DeSantis was supportive.
“So I printed the bill, read it. And I said, “Well, the word gay isn’t even on the bill.” That’s the first thing I said, “Okay, the word gay isn’t on the bill.” Because people were saying you can’t talk about having two moms or two dads and I’m like, well, because I’d be against that, but I’m like, that’s not even on the bill.”
Still, if elected, Clowdus promises to find common ground with Democrats on other issues, including addressing the rising costs of housing, utilities and homeowner’s insurance in the state.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Christina Pushaw is Gov. Ron Desantis’ press secretary. She is his campaign spokesperson.
This story has been updated.