Curt Clawson will need assists from rivals' teams
By BRENT BATTEN
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Special election primary winner Curt Clawson’s plea for party unity going forward was an olive branch to once bitter rivals to come together for the common cause of conservatism.
It was also a matter of survival.
Soldiering forward after a bruising four-person primary in the U.S. House District 19 special election primary one thing is clear to Clawson. He doesn’t have enough votes to win.
Heavily Republican Southwest Florida typically sends a Republican representative to Congress so some Clawson supporters might breathe a sigh of relief now that he’s emerged on top of the GOP field.
But factors unique to this particularly negative race make the next election more than a formality for Clawson.
Conceding defeat Tuesday, runner-up state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said she would “partner” with Clawson and that they would make a “very strong team going forward.”
Paige Kreegel, who finished 270 votes behind Benacquisto, congratulated Clawson and predicted he will be elected come June, when the special election to replace Trey Radel is held.
But neither one stated flatly that they are done. The special election set for June 24 is only to fill the seat until the end of the year. Another Republican primary will be held in August. Michael Dreikorn, a distant fourth to Clawson, has repeatedly said he will run again in that race.
Benacquisto, Kreegel, both — or someone else — could join him, reshuffling the deck.
Before that primary takes place, Democrat April Freeman, Libertarian Ray Netherwood and write-in candidate Timothy Rossano will get a shot at Clawson.
Clawson tallied 26,857 Republican votes Tuesday. There are about 122,000 registered Democrats in the district plus another 111,000 people with no party affiliation who will be able to vote come June.
Turnout for Tuesday’s Republican primary was 34 percent.
If Democrats turn out in that same proportion, Freeman can count on 41,000 votes.
So Clawson needs help beyond the base of voters who supported him Tuesday.
Where will that help come from?
An analysis, inexact because election officials don’t track how party members and unaffiliated voters cast their ballots, suggests that in the 2012 U.S. House District 19 race independent voters in both Collier and Lee counties tended to break slightly in favor of the Republican. That would help Clawson.
But with so much ill-will generated in the primary, will Benacquisto and/or Kreegel voters rally to Clawson’s side to turn back the Democrat? Might some of them defect to the Libertarian? How many will stay home, refusing to support anyone other than their favorite? Might some actually vote Democrat, hoping their true choice would rejoin the race and take on a weakened or defeated Clawson in August?
Freeman has raised about $100,000 so far. That’s $10,000 more than James Roach, the Democrat who ran against Radel, raised during the entire 2012 election cycle.
Netherwood can’t be discounted as the nonfactor third party candidates tend to be in elections for national office. His Libertarian message will resonate with many of the conservative voters aligned with the three unsuccessful Republicans.
Traditionally, a win in the Republican primary in Southwest Florida equates to a win in the general election. It’s hard to imagine things being different this time around, but if ever there was a time for someone in Southwest Florida to pull off an upset, this is it.
Clawson’s remarks Tuesday night sought to forestall that possibility. “All is forgiven. I want you on the team. We need to unite Southwest Florida,” he said speaking indirectly to the other candidates.
On Wednesday, he announced Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott would assist in the unification effort.
Scott, who didn’t participate in the primary campaigning, says he will contact supporters of the losing candidates to try to bring them on board. “Now is the time for the community to support Curt as our next congressman. I urge other Republicans to get behind Curt both in the upcoming special general election as well as the August primary for the following term,” the campaign quoted Scott as saying.