Trey Radel Resignation Starts Scramble for Safe Republican Seat

The intra-party squabble was already in progress before Radel prompted a special election.

Rep. Trey Radel, R- Fla., is interviewed in the Capitol Hill office in Washington D.C. 
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Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Jan. 27, 2014, 4:06 a.m.

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.

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