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Politics

Florida Senate Leader Benacquisto Seeks Former Radel U.S. House Seat

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Florida Senate
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TALLAHASSEE (The News Service of Florida) — State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto joined a growing field Monday in what is expected to be a contentious fight to fill the Southwest Florida congressional seat vacated last week by former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel.Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, will not have to give up her Senate seat during the upcoming legislative session to run in a special election in Congressional District 19. She traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with Republican operatives.

"My decision follows thoughtful dialogue with my friends, business leaders and the incredible people of this community," Benacquisto said in a prepared statement. "The encouragement I have received from our community to take on this challenge has been both humbling and inspirational."

Benacquisto's decision came as Chauncey Goss, the runner-up to Radel in a packed 2012 GOP primary, announced that he won't be among the candidates in the April 22 special primary or the June 24 special general election.

"As a husband and a father, my responsibility to my family must at this time take priority over the level of commitment required to properly serve as our representative in Congress," Goss told the Naples Daily News on Monday.

Former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, who held the seat for four terms before unsuccessfully running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, had earlier said he wouldn't run.

Radel resigned Jan. 27, nearly three months after getting arrested in Washington on a cocaine-possession charge.

His decision may only shift to the special election what was expected to be hard-fought primary in the Republican-dominated district. Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel had already launched a challenge to Radel and now will run in the special election.

A super PAC backing Kreegel, Values are Vital, last month ran an attack ad aimed at Benacquisto.

The PAC questioned a Senate re-election ad by Benacquisto as being an overture for a congressional run.

The Republican Party of Florida quickly sided with Benacquisto and sent a letter to the PAC demanding the ad be taken off the air.

Kreegel on Monday released a statement reaffirming his entry into the special election, declaring that "character and integrity still matter in Southwest Florida."

"The special election on April 22nd does nothing to change my message of restoring hard work and integrity to the office," Kreegel said.

Benacquisto and Kreegel won't be alone in the primary.

Others who have opened campaign accounts for the seat are former corporate CEO Curt Clawson; Mike Giallombrio of Cape Coral; Brian Gibens of Cape Coral; Timothy Rossano of Fort Myers; and Michael Dreikron of Bokeelia.

April Freeman, a former Republican from Michigan now living in Cape Coral, is the only Democrat who has opened a campaign account. Ray Netherwood of Marco Island is running as a Libertarian.

The official qualifying period for the special election is from 8 a.m. Feb. 25 through noon, Feb. 26.

Down the road, Benacquisto's decision could impact the future leadership of the state Senate. Benacquisto has been viewed as an ally of Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in his contest with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to become Senate president after the 2016 elections.