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Republicans Gear Up to Replace Trey Radel in Congress

November 26, 2013 - 6:00pm

Republicans are starting to hover over Trey Radel as the disgraced congressman continues rehab after being busted with cocaine. Radel holds a solidly Republican congressional seat and more than a few prominent Republicans are looking to strike.

While he hasnt made his intentions known, Radel is increasingly facing calls to resign. Earlier this week, Lenny Curry from the Republican Party of Florida demanded Radel fall on his sword. Rick Scott followed suit, saying it would be for the best if Radel stepped down.

There are signs that Connie Mack might want to get his old job back. Mack held the congressional seat for eight years and was moving up into the leadership, including chairing the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, before deciding to run against Bill Nelson in 2012. Keeping an active schedule in 2013, Mack looked to keep a seat at the political table after losing to Nelson. This week, Macks camp told Politico the former congressman was being encouraged to run for his old seat.

But Mack didnt exactly impress against Nelson. Despite high hopes from Republicans across the nation, Mack proved one of the GOPs biggest disappointments in 2012. After being gutted by the likes of George LeMieux, Mike McCalister and Dave Weldon in the primary, Mack was bombarded by Nelson and never quite managed a successful defense against a series of personal attacks. Mack lost badly in November and he went through a high-profile divorce with Mary Bono Mack, who lost her congressional seat in 2012, immediately thereafter.

Mack is only 46 and he could well have a second act in Congress. But its not a slam dunk by any means and Macks underwhelming showing in 2012 could encourage Republicans to challenge him in the primary for Radels seat.

Some names are already being bandied about, including two Republicans that Radel bested in the 2012 primary. Chauncey Goss, whose father held the seat before Mack, has expressed interest in running again. Goss placed second in the Republican primary in 2012 but still placed 8.5 percent behind Radel. After placing third, Paige Kreegel has also expressed interest in running again but he finished more than 12 percent behind Radel.

Radel gained some traction in the primary by being a fresh face and there could be one in the mix to replace him. Some Republicans are encouraging Lizbeth Benacquisto to enter the contest. Benacquisto has impressed considerably since being elected to the Florida Senate in 2010. Vaulting from local politics in Wellington to the Senate in Tallahassee, Benacquisto has moved up the legislative ladder and, only three years after being elected to the Senate, she is now the GOP leader in the chamber.

If Radel does not resign and seeks a second term, he can expect a primary fight. Whether he stays or goes, Republicans in Southwest Florida will have a busy holiday season as some of them plan to run to replace him.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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