An already brewing and nasty battle to oust an embattled Florida Republican escalated Monday when Rep. Trey Radel announced his resignation from Congress.
Now local GOP operatives only expect the field to grow with familiar faces — a couple of whom have run in Florida’s 19th district before.
Radel pleaded guilty to a cocaine possession charge last year and, until recently, insisted he would seek re-election. On Monday, he wrote in his letter of resignation that he could not “fully and effectively serve” in Congress anymore.
Under Florida election law, GOP Gov. Rick Scott is tasked with scheduling the special election to fill Radel’s seat. He had not made an announcement on timing as of Monday evening, but Florida Republicans speculate the special election could happen in the late spring or run concurrent with the regularly scheduled primary and general election later this year.
The GOP primary will determine the next member from this district, where President Barack Obama won just 39 percent of the vote in 2012.
Several Sunshine State Republicans have already lined up to run in the solidly GOP Fort Myers-based district, including state Rep. Paige Kreegel and businessman Curt Clawson. The pool of potential candidates includes former Rep. Connie Mack, state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, and Chauncey Goss, a former House Budget Committee aide and the son of a Republican congressman from that region.
Goss said in a Monday afternoon phone interview with CQ Roll Call that he is “strongly considering” a run and will likely reach a decision by the end of the week. Goss, the son of former Rep. Porter Goss, came in second to Radel in the GOP primary in 2012.
The elder Goss is currently the chairman of the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The OCE is an independent oversight entity established during the Democrats’ most recent House majority to provide guidance and refer cases to the House Ethics Committee, which is made up of lawmakers and was just in the midst of an investigation of Radel .
In 2012, Radel won an open-seat race to replace Mack, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate after representing the 19th District for four terms. On Monday, Mack released a statement that telegraphed that he was seriously considering a run, saying he would “consider the best way I can be of service to Florida and our region.”
Kreegel, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, is the most organized candidate in the race. He recently sparred with Benacquisto, who is not officially a candidate, when she aired a TV ad this month that, while paid for by her state Senate campaign, was considered a potential preview of a congressional campaign.
That led a pro-Kreegel super PAC, Values are Vital, to air an ad of its own that accused Benacquisto of “playing fast and loose with the law.”
The television advertisement rankled the Republican Party of Florida — so much so that its lawyers demanded a local affiliate remove the spot.
Instead, the state party produced and aired a positive spot to boost Benacquisto, with a narrator praising the state lawmaker as “honest, determined, trusted.”
A source said the ad was backed by a small buy of $30,000 and it would run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 2.
While the Florida GOP was willing to defend Benacquisto as the state Senate majority leader, the party is expected to remain neutral and cease advocating on her behalf if she officially enters the House race.
Still, the proxy fight between the super PAC and the state party in support of the contenders was indicative of Radel’s increasing irrelevance — even before his resignation.