The race to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., is heating up in Southwest Florida as Republican primary candidates exchange shots and reel in endorsements.
After Radel resigned at the end of January, three major Republican candidates started battling to replace him. Whoever wins the April 22 primary will have a clear advantage over Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Rey Netherwood in the June 24 general election.
Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, has been reeling in endorsements from Republican leaders at the federal and state levels this week.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., announced on Monday they were backing Benacquisto.
Washington is broken and this president has no interest in fixing it, Diaz-Balart said. Lizbeths fighting spirit and proven ability to get things done are just what we need to get things moving for hard-working Florida families.
Lizbeth is a proven and trusted leader, said Rooney. Washington desperately needs more people like her and I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her to fight for the fiscal responsibility the people of Florida need and deserve.
I am honored to have the support of two of Floridas strongest conservatives in Washington, Benacquisto said. Together, we will fight to cut taxes, balance the budget and reduce regulations that are holding back our economy just as I have done here in Florida.
Four state representatives from Southwest Florida endorsed Benacquisto this week with Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, and Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, backing her on Wednesday.
Lizbeth has consistently fought to keep control in our hands the peoples hands, said Caldwell. Politicians will not get us back on the right track. I know a citizen legislator like Lizbeth will take real conservative solutions to Washington.
Lizbeth is respected by her peers in the Senate for her tenacity, hard work and integrity, said Passidomo. She is a proven leader who has been involved in significant legislation that advances our conservative ideals and I am confident that she will continue to represent us in Washington with the same integrity, values and commitment. The citizens of Southwest Florida know Lizbeth and can be assured that she will not let us down.
Matt and Kathleen understand the need for proven, conservative partners in Washington and I am proud to have their support, said Benacquisto.
State Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, announced on Tuesday they were backing Benacquisto.
With polls showing a two-candidate race with Kreegel in third, the Clawson camp launched a new television ad attacking Benaquisto for being a Democrat in her teens and voting for Medicaid expansion in Tallahassee.
John Yob, an adviser to Clawson, pointed to his candidates support of the Penny Plan which proposes to reduce the size of the federal government by 1 percent each year until the budget is balanced. Former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., who held the seat before Radel, was the main author of the plan and is backing Clawson.
Curt Clawson has stayed focused on his economic growth plan and Penny Plan, Yob said. Benacquisto has attempted to hide her past as a registered Democrat and her support for the Obamacare Medicaid expansion by launching false attacks against Curt Clawson. We urge her to stop running a dirty campaign and start talking about the issues that matter.
The Benacquisto campaign fired back with a statement released on Wednesday afternoon:
At the start of the campaign for Florida's 19th Congressional District, Curt Clawson claimed he would run a "clean" campaign. But the truth is, hes already spent a million dollars telling voters hes an outsider.
But now we know the truth.
Clawsons another insider whose high-priced Washington handlers are pushing lie after lie on television.
His latest? A patently false attack ad that compares health care votes in the state Legislature to Obamacare. The truth? The New York Times couldnt have been clearer than this March 11, 2013, headline:Medicaid Expansion Is Rejected in Florida.
ThisNew York Times articleclearly explains Lizbeth and the state Senates rejection of expanding Medicaid. In fact, the bill cited by Clawson is an absolute rejection of Obamacare and, in Congress, she will repeal Obamacare.
And Curt Clawsons lies are piling up in his inside-out campaign.
Clawson denies trying to buy this election and yet hes spending unprecedented amounts of cash. He claims he wants to hear from the people of Southwest Florida, yet as was reported yesterday, Clawson's high-priced Washington handlers have put him into hiding while he refuses to attend public events unless his list of demands is met. Adigital journalistdescribed this as Clawson "taking his ball and going home ..."
Voters deserve honest answers to the serious questions about his past business failures. Curt Clawson cant hide from the truth.
The Clawson camp announced earlier this week they have decided to have their candidate not attend forums unless Benacquisto is present.
For his part, Kreegel has spent the last week making the rounds in both Collier and Lee counties, speaking to Republican groups. Kreegel continues to cite his experience as a doctor for one of the reasons he opposes President Barack Obamas federal health-care law.
Kreegel is also citing economic reasons for why the law should be repealed. Pointing to a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Kreegel continued attacking the law on Wednesday.
Obamacare will result in 2.5 million Americans losing their full-time jobs, Kreegel insisted.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.