Sarah Palin Takes Center Stage in CD 19 Special Election
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Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came down to Southwest Florida Thursday to help Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the special congressional election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla.
Palin was on center stage at a fundraiser for Benacquisto at a private residence in Naples Thursday evening. The former Alaska governor, U.S. Sen. John McCain’s running mate on the 2008 Republican presidential ticket, endorsed Benacquisto last week.
“We have been lucky to visit Southwest Florida on several occasions and know it is one of the warmest places in the country,” Palin said in her endorsement. “The warmth comes not only from the sun, but also from the citizens. We met many dedicated patriots in Naples, Fla., on our recent book tour. They deserve better representation than what they've had recently. Lizbeth Benacquisto is the only proven conservative in the race. She served her constituents well, and has never forgotten who put her in office – the people. Lizbeth will take these values to Washington to fight for us all.
“Lizbeth Benacquisto is a proven conservative with an unwavering commitment to the principles of our founders and to the sanctity of life,” Palin added. “In the Florida state Senate she has a record that demonstrates a willingness to take on special interests and rein in the scope of government. A fierce advocate for her constituents, Lizbeth has introduced and pushed through legislation to protect our senior citizens.
“In particular, Lizbeth’s personal triumph over hardship and staunch defense of life is inspiring," Palin continued. “We need this fighter and advocate for women and innocent life in Washington!”
But Palin also threw a few jabs at Benacquisto’s chief rival for the Republican nomination.
“I admire and respect the good folks supporting other candidates in this race, but we’ll have to disagree on this one,” Palin said before taking aim at businessman Curt Clawson. “Lizbeth is running against a wealthy, self-funded candidate with lots of splashy campaign ads claiming to be a conservative. Since when do conservatives stand for crony capitalism and government bailouts? Please do your homework, voters. Look beyond the fancy anonymous campaign ads. Look at a candidate’s record, not just at their rhetoric. Lizbeth is a genuine conservative with a track record to prove it.”
But tea party leaders in the district backing Clawson in the primary are urging Palin to reconsider her endorsement. Jack Tymann of the Naples Tea Party, Kathy Jones of the Lee County Patriots, former congressional candidate Byron Donalds and other tea party activists wrote a letter to Palin on Wednesday. In the letter, the Clawson supporters insisted Benacquisto “demonized capitalism and an American success story” by attacking their candidate. They also accused Benacquisto of using “Obama-style campaign tactics.”
The tea party leaders insisted attacks on Clawson’s record in the private sector were unfounded and that their candidate was a conservative while maintaining Benacquisto was not.
“We recognize that around the country you prefer to endorse female candidates as part of your ‘mama grizzly’ efforts,” the Clawson supporters wrote Palin. “But, in this case, you have endorsed the moderate establishment candidate who is opposed by grassroots conservatives across Southwest Florida.”
Even as Clawson backers tried to get Palin to reconsider her endorsement, Benacquisto released a letter on Wednesday which only served to strengthen her conservative credentials. Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) and the United Sportsmen of Florida gave Benacquisto an “A+” rating on Second Amendment issues.
Trying to catch Benacquisto and Clawson in the primary, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel called for more transparency from elected officials when it comes to their personal finances.
"Too many in Washington use nonpublic information to increase their own personal wealth," Kreegel said on Thursday. "I hereby pledge, if elected, to place my investments in a blind trust for the duration of my congressional term. I'm calling on my opponents to make the same pledge.
"We should be voting with the best interests of our constituents in mind -- not those of our own personal stock portfolios," Kreegel added.
The candidates will meet in the April 22 primary. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will be a heavy favorite over Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.