Radel Out; Mack In? Assessing FL-19

Last evening, freshman Rep. Trey Radel (R) officially resigned from the House, succumbing to Republican Party leaders both in and out of government who were urging him to leave. Controversy arose around the congressman after he accepted a plea bargain arrangement for the misdemeanor cocaine possession charges brought against him in the District of Columbia.

Radel just finished 30 days in a rehab facility as part of the agreement with DC prosecutors. His action vacating the congressional seat now requires Gov. Rick Scott (R) to schedule a special election to fill the unexpired portion of the current term. As is the case with all 435 House seats, the new incumbent will stand for a full term in the 2014 regular election.

The resignation brings the House vacancy total to three. The other two incumbent-less seats are the late Rep. Bill Young’s (R-FL-13) district to the north of Radel’s, and former Rep. Mell Watt’s (D) 12th District of North Carolina. Watt resigned to accept his appointment as Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to which the Senate confirmed him earlier this month. The special election to fill the Young seat is March 11. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) scheduled his state’s special election to run concurrently with the regular election cycle.

Radel, a former radio talk show host, won his election to the House in 2012 securing 30 percent of the Republican primary vote in a field of six candidates, inclusive. He then won an easy 62-36 percent victory over Democrat Jim Roach in the general election. The seat was open in the last election because four-term Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) ran unsuccessfully for the Senate.

Once word of the cocaine possession plea bargain became public, former state Rep. and 2012 congressional candidate Paige Kreegel (R) immediately jumped into the 2014 primary campaign. State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto (R) stopped short of announcing her official congressional campaign but is making clear her intention to run. In addition to Kreegel and Benacquisto as major Republican candidates, businessman Chauncey Goss, son of former Representative and CIA Director Porter Goss (R-FL-14) and second-place finisher to Radel with 21.5 percent, also is considering running again.

For his part, Mack is again a potential House candidate. Releasing a statement about Radel’s resignation, the former congressman ended his comments by sounding like a candidate, saying, “now it’s time for Southwest Florida to elect a new congressman who will be a tireless champion of our shared mainstream conservative values.” Mack confirms he is considering the race now that the seat is open and promises a decision soon.

The 19th District, that includes the cities of Ft. Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples, is solidly Republican (Obama ’12: 39 percent) and will remain in GOP hands.

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