Curt Clawson Gets Ready to Head to Washington
Around the State
After not having a congressman for most of the first half of 2014, voters in Southwest Florida finally get to replace Trey Radel on Tuesday and all signs indicate they’re going to give Curt Clawson the ball.
Clawson is expected to easily best Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Rey Netherwood in Tuesday’s special election in this heavily Republican district. It’s pretty telling that the media basically stopped paying attention to this special election after Clawson won the Republican primary back in April.
Still, there could be a few surprises on Tuesday, especially if turnout is very low. Netherwood actually can make a bit of a splash if, as a poll last week showed, he could leapfrog Freeman for second place. That would certainly give Florida Libertarians something to cheer about, especially as Netherwood and Freeman will both be on the ballot come November to try to take down Clawson again.
Clawson has followed in the footsteps of several Florida Republicans who came out of the private sector to upend longtime politicians in the primaries. Rick Scott did it to Bill McCollum back in 2010. Radel, Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis all emerged in 2012 to win congressional seats after defeating established Republican officeholders in the primaries. Clawson followed the same path when he beat Lizbeth Benacquisto and Paige Kreegel, neither of whom can be dismissed as slouches, in the primary.
To be sure, Clawson was helped out by his lack of political experience. Florida Republicans aren’t just sick of politics as usual; they’re sick of politicians as usual. This helps explain why Pam Bondi beat two familiar Tallahassee figures in the 2010 attorney general primary and why Florida Republicans helped lift Herman Cain momentarily into the top tier of the Republican presidential candidates after the Presidency 5 straw poll.
Clawson elbowed aside Benacquisto and Kreegel in part because of dipping into his own fortune, but also because he played up his background outside of politics. In TV commercials and online ads, Clawson dubbed himself “the outsider” and rehashed his college basketball career at Perdue. Clawson even featured ads challenging Barack Obama to a game of hoops.
Republicans bought into Clawson’s efforts and gave him a comfortable win over Benacquisto and Kreegel in the primary. Clawson’s media efforts show that while he might have been an outsider to elected office, he isn’t a yokel when it came to crafting and sticking with a theme -- namely, that he’s a political outsider that didn’t steer the nation into its current mess. It’s a good strategy for first-time candidates and Clawson has only been the latest in a line of Florida Republicans to follow that plan.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.