Benacquisto, Kreegel Off and Running in SW Florida Congressional Special Election

By: Allison Nielsen and Kevin Derby | Posted: February 3, 2014 2:00 PM
Lizbeth Benacquisto and Paige Kreegel

Lizbeth Benacquisto and Paige Kreegel

Two Republicans in the race to replace former GOP Congressman Trey Radel jumped out of the starting gate Monday, formally announcing their candidacy in the special election, while another potential candidate said he will stay on the sidelines.

Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel both declared for the seat after Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Friday calling for the special election. The primary election is set for April 22, the general election June 24.

Radel resigned from Congress last Monday after several months of scrutiny after he was arrested in October for misdemeanor possession of cocaine in Washington, D.C. Initially, Radel said he would only take a leave of absence from the House.

Chauncey Goss announced Monday morning he does not intend to run to replace Radel. The son of former U.S. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., Chauncey Goss, who placed second behind Radel in the 2012 Republican primary, pointed to family and business obligations as reasons he was staying out. Goss is not the only big name to stay out of the race. Former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., who left the seat to run against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in 2012 announced last week he will not pursue it.

Said Benacquisto, “People are calling out for someone who can end the dysfunction in Washington. The constituents that I have the honor and privilege to serve, I truly care about them. We have been strong and resolute in their encouragement and general push for me to lend my name for consideration. That, coupled with the fact that there are so many critical issues in our country that affect our area have motivated me to serve in that capacity.”

Benacquisto long had been rumored to be a front-runner for the seat and recent polls put her ahead of other potential candidates to replace Radel. Just last week, the Florida Senate majority leader was in Washington meeting with the national Republican leadership about her potential run for Congress.

Also on Monday, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel announced he will shift his efforts from running in the general election to running in the special election. Kreegel placed third behind Radel and Goss in the Republican primary in 2012.

“Since Jan 7th, with the encouragement of friends, family, and supporters, I have been running to represent the people of Southwest Florida in Congress,” Kreegel said in a written statement. “The special election on April 22nd does nothing to change my message of restoring hard work and integrity to the office. One thing voters can count on is my clear and unwavering commitment to the people of Southwest Florida -- regardless of any special election. I look forward to the opportunity to gain the support of the people of Southwest Florida and providing a choice that embodies integrity on April 22nd.”

Kreegel pointed to his background as a doctor and said he will fight against President Barack Obama’s health care law. “The politicians in Washington had their chance with health care reform, and now it’s time to bring in a doctor that will hold them accountable and help cure this disaster,” said Kreegel. “From Obamacare to Washington’s out-of-control spending to the breaches of national security, the issues facing our country are serious matters that deserve serious representation. Southwest Florida should expect a congressman who can lead, a congressman without distractions, a congressman they can trust.”

There are other candidates in the mix. Businessman and former college basketball star Curt Clawson is trying to claim the mantle of political outsider that propelled Radel to victory back in 2012. Other candidates in the Republican mix include businessmen Mike Giallombardo and Brian Gibens, both of whom are veterans, and Timothy Rossano and Michael Dreikorn. Community activist April Freeman is running as a Democrat. Libertarian Ray Netherwood, a veteran, is also running again after first gunning for Congress in 2010. The seat is considered safe for Republicans.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen. Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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