CD 19 Candidates' Animosity Grows Fiercer
Around the State
The Republican primary battle in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., grew increasingly hostile on Monday as the three major candidates exchanged attacks. Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, businessman Curt Clawson and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel will meet in the April 22 primary to replace Trey Radel, who resigned in January after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
On Sunday, Clawson’s team pointed to a phone call from Kreegel to their candidate, insisting the former state representative was making threats to ramp up more attacks from Values are Vital, a super-PAC backing Kreegel. That PAC is running attack ads against Clawson and the Clawson camp insists there are “questions about how involved Kreegel is in the operations of the Values are Vital super-PAC.”
“While this is for sure a shocker, and may mark the first time a candidate for federal office has so blatantly spoken for a super-PAC, the threatening message is in keeping with Paige Kreegel’s checkered past,” said David James, a spokesman for Clawson. “Sadly, Paige Kreegel thinks the laws he would be elected to make don’t apply to him and indeed so-called ‘values’ aren’t so vital to him. The people of Southwest Florida are fed up with insider politicians like Kreegel and deserve an outsider like Curt Clawson.”
The Benacquisto camp also piled on, sending out an email to supporters insisting their two rivals are working together.
“Clawson clearly recognized the illegal nature of Kreegel's voice mail and is seeking to put distance between himself and the illegal behavior,” the Benacquisto campaign informed supporters on Monday. “But when both men attack 'her' it's clear this is not the first time they've coordinated. This is obviously the continuation of a much larger, conspiratorial conversation between Curt Clawson, Paige Kreegel, and Kreegel’s super-PAC. The familiarity between the two men in the recording demonstrates this voice mail isn’t the first time these two have engaged in secret conversations about attacking Lizbeth Benacquisto.
“Kreegel’s callous dismissal of the news media and former staff questioning his behavior further demonstrates how this team – Curt Clawson and Paige Kreegel – believe they can lie, cheat and deceive the people of Southwest Florida," the Benacquisto team continued. “Kreegel’s depth of knowledge regarding the super-PAC’s upcoming ads and his desperation to share that information with Curt Clawson indicates that these two, with the help of this super-PAC, are willing to do anything to win."
Labeling their foes the “Clawson-Kreegel-Super-PAC Good ‘Ol Boys Club," the Benacquisto team demanded to know if their foes had worked together before and about contact between the two groups.
The Kreegel team insisted to Sunshine State News on Monday that their candidate called Clawson “out of civility” and pointed out that information on super-PACs can be found online through the Federal Election Commission website.
Kreegel stressed the same message on Monday afternoon.
“A recent phone call I made, and message I left on Curt Clawson's voice mail is generating a lot of speculation,” Kreegel said on Monday. “Every day my campaign manager does a routine search of expenditures by the various political action committees (PACs) involved in the CD 19 special election. This information is publicly available on the Federal Election Commission website, and is the same method used to reveal that ‘outsider’ Clawson contributed $2,500 to the campaign of Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and $10,000 to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“When notified by my staff on Friday of an FEC filing by a super-PAC, indicating that they were to spend money in opposition of Curt Clawson, I called Curt personally to express my displeasure with a process over which I have no control,” Kreegel added. “Apparently no good deed goes unpunished, and Clawson and his high-priced Washington, D.C., consultants made the decision to use my act of civility against me. It's abundantly clear that Curt would like to make an issue out of it since he has taken a recent beating in the press and in the polls.”
On other fronts, Abby Dosoretz, the campaign manager for Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, turned up the heat on Clawson. They are running in the Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who resigned in January after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
“Here on the Lizbeth Benacquisto team we like to stay focused on a positive message, highlighting Lizbeth's strong conservative credentials, and stay away from any discussion of our opponents,” Dosoretz informed supporters on Monday. “But, we do think it is important that all candidates are vetted properly. In the post-Radel era, we need to know exactly who we are dealing with.
“As you may have heard, one of our opponents is a man from Michigan by the name of Curt Clawson,” Dosoretz added. “He is an unknown to the area, and has been spending millions on TV ads to cast himself as an ‘outsider businessman.’ Now we know this was all a lie.”
Dosoretz pointed to an article from the Naples Daily News on Clawson’s record in the private sector and offered her take on it.
“Clawson drove his business into bankruptcy twice, hired Democratic lobbyists to obtain a $94 million taxpayer-funded bailout, and donated to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow -- one of the architects of Obamacare -- in exchange for inserting a loophole into the Obamacare law to bail out his failing company,” Dosoretz insisted. “Normally, we would just let Lizbeth's strong conservative record speak for itself. But because Clawson is basing his entire campaign on his so-called ‘business experience’ -- which turns out to be full of bailouts, bankruptcies, lobbyists and layoffs -- we felt it was important for you to see this article.”
Dosoretz urged supporters to share the article and even compared Clawson to Radel. “Just like our former congressman, this man from Michigan is not who he says he is. We can't get burned again,” Dosoretz added.
Whoever wins the primary on April 22 will face Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Rey Netherwood in the June 24 special election.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.