‘Outsider’ Clawson Wins Republican Primary for Radel’s Seat

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 9: U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) speaks during a press conference, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Republican leadership discussed the immigration bill and the Obama administration's decision to delay a portion of the Affordable Care Act, which will extend the deadline for employer mandated health care to 2015. (Photo by WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 9: U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) speaks during a press conference, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Republican leadership discussed the immigration bill and the Obama administration's decision to delay a portion of the Affordable Care Act, which will extend the deadline for employer mandated health care to 2015. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images))
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Jack Fitzpatrick
April 22, 2014, 4:17 p.m.

Curt Clawson, the “out­sider” can­did­ate who in­ves­ted mil­lions of dol­lars in his cam­paign, has won the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion to re­place former Rep. Trey Radel in a south­w­est Flor­ida dis­trict that heav­ily fa­vors Re­pub­lic­ans.

A former auto-man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­ec­ut­ive and bas­ket­ball play­er at Purdue Uni­versity, Clawson beat state Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Lizbeth Ben­ac­quisto, former state Rep. Paige Kree­gel, and avi­ation con­sult­ant Mi­chael Dreikorn. Clawson won 38 per­cent of the vote, Ben­ac­quisto won 26 per­cent, Paige won 25 per­cent, and Dreikorn won 11 per­cent, with 141 of 148 pre­cincts in when the As­so­ci­ated Press called the race Tues­day even­ing.

Clawson will be the fa­vor­ite over pub­lic-re­la­tions firm own­er April Free­man, the lone can­did­ate in the Demo­crat­ic primary, in a June 24 spe­cial elec­tion.

Clawson’s win is a vic­tory for the tea party and for in­ex­per­i­enced, anti­es­tab­lish­ment can­did­ates seek­ing to chal­lenge more ex­per­i­enced Re­pub­lic­ans. His cam­paign fo­cused on his lack of polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence and took an anti­es­tab­lish­ment tone, and he earned en­dorse­ments from anti­es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures in­clud­ing Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Michele Bach­mann, and the State Tea Party Ex­press.

The race “per­fectly ex­em­pli­fies the con­trast with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party na­tion­ally,” Clawson cam­paign spokes­man John Yob said last week.

And the primary race was not short on drama or ac­cus­a­tions, even by the stand­ard set by Radel, who was ar­res­ted for buy­ing co­caine. Clawson, who loaned his cam­paign $2.65 mil­lion of his own money, was the sub­ject of re­peated at­tack ads by su­per PACs sup­port­ing Ben­ac­quisto and Kree­gel. His busi­ness back­ground gave them plenty of am­muni­tion: The ads linked Clawson to a sex of­fend­er in Utah, cri­ti­cized him for so­li­cit­ing gov­ern­ment bail­out money for his busi­ness’s bank­ruptcy, drew at­ten­tion to a deadly ex­plo­sion in an auto plant his com­pany owned, and even poin­ted out that he had once donated to a Demo­crat.

Clawson, for his part, fired back with an ad ac­cus­ing Kree­gel of il­leg­ally co­ordin­at­ing with the su­per PAC sup­port­ing him.

Clawson’s per­son­al wealth might have made him a heavy fa­vor­ite if not for the mil­lions of dol­lars in out­side spend­ing sup­port­ing Ben­ac­quisto and Kree­gel, each of whom was backed by a su­per PAC fo­cused solely on this race. The Liberty and Lead­er­ship Fund spent $677,000 sup­port­ing Ben­ac­quisto, and Val­ues Are Vi­tal spent $1.3 mil­lion sup­port­ing Kree­gel.

Still, Clawson’s per­son­al funds gave him an edge. He spent heav­ily, run­ning an ad dur­ing the Su­per Bowl in which he chal­lenged Pres­id­ent Obama to a three-point shootout. His ef­forts to cast Ben­ac­quisto and Kree­gel as the Flor­ida polit­ic­al es­tab­lish­ment were largely suc­cess­ful. Aside from an en­dorse­ment from Sarah Pal­in, Ben­ac­quisto’s cam­paign got little na­tion­al sup­port, in­stead gar­ner­ing en­dorse­ments from state law­makers.

A late poll by Pub­lic Policy Polling, re­leased on April 18, showed Clawson with a 19-point lead over Ben­ac­quisto, a 20-point lead over Dreikorn, and a 21-point lead over Kree­gel.

Yob said the race might sig­nal an era of nar­rowly fo­cused su­per PACs sup­port­ing only one can­did­ate, but shortly be­fore the elec­tion, he said he doubted the strategy would prove ef­fect­ive for Ben­ac­quisto or Kree­gel.

“They haven’t been very ef­fect­ive with the neg­at­ive ads,” Yob said last week. “We feel very good about our chances.”

Aside from how it re­flects on the Re­pub­lic­an di­vide, the race also re­ceived some at­ten­tion simply for choos­ing the re­place­ment to Radel, said Kree­gel cam­paign man­ager Alex Melen­dez.

“Giv­en the amount of at­ten­tion that this area re­ceived as a res­ult of our former con­gress­man be­ing ar­res­ted for co­caine pos­ses­sion,” Melen­dez said in an email, “it is only lo­gic­al that this spe­cial elec­tion garner a sim­il­ar level of in­volve­ment from the na­tion­al me­dia.”

What We're Following See More »
Dem Senator Calls North Korea Briefing “Sobering”
6 hours ago
Pai Announces Plans to Roll Back Net Neutrality
8 hours ago

"Even as he acknowledged the importance of an open internet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday set his telecom agency on a course to scrap the tough, broad net neutrality protections imposed by the Obama administration. During a major speech in Washington, D.C., Pai outlined the need for a total revision of existing federal rules that seek to prevent companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon from blocking or slowing down web content, including the movie or music offerings from their competitors." Separately, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie that the Clinton Administration "basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure. We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015."

White House to Continue Paying Obamacare Insurers
8 hours ago
White House Proposes New Tax Plan
8 hours ago

The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

DHS Launches Office for Victims of Crimes by Immigrants
8 hours ago

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement today established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE), as called for in a presidential executive order from January. The new office's website states that its staff "will be guided by a singular, straightforward mission—to ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.