Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., plans to resign from Congress on Monday, setting off a special election for his seat in southwest Florida.
In some ways, though, that race had already started, with allies of two potential successors sniping over the airwaves and in the press. And that’s even before former Republican Rep. Connie Mack, who could try a comeback, has made his intentions known.
Radel’s Fort Myers-based 19th Congressional District is heavily Republican, and that already-in-progress primary is where the action will be. Paige Kreegel, a former state representative who finished third to Radel in the 2012 primary, had ready decided to run again after Radel was charged with and pleaded guilty to cocaine possession. And two of Kreegel’s donors have seeded a new super PAC with $1 million to back him in 2014.
Meanwhile, state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto has said she is thinking about running for her local congressional seat, and she has also begun “heavy spending” on introductory, biographical TV ads, using her state Senate campaign fund. That led to the pro-Kreegel super PAC, “Values Are Vital,” going on TV with its own ads criticizing Benacquisto’s maneuver, which in turn prompted the state Republican Party to send a cease-and-desist letter to the local TV station airing the ads.
That summarizes the January activity for a filled congressional seat with an August primary. Now that Radel is leaving the seat open — prompting an accelerated special election — the pace is sure to get even more frenzied.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office will set the special election date soon; Scott and local authorities took less than two weeks after late Rep. Bill Young died in October to set the date for the elections to name Young’s succcessor. The primary for that race took place on January 14, just under three months after the seat became vacant.
Other Republicans, including one former representative who might have an inside track, have also expressed interest in the congressional seat. Mack, who left the safe seat in 2012 to make an unsuccessful run for the Senate, sent out several statements while the spotlight was on Radel last year, and he reportedly contacted supporters to set up a return trip to the House. Chauncey Goss, the son of former Rep. Porter Goss who finished second in the 2012 primary, said in November he was considering another bid.