NAPLES, Fla. - It was a billed as a casual backyard barbecue. But at $500 a plate, it wasn't your ordinary cookout.
Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and one-time Republican Vice Presidential nominee, attended the event to announce her endorsement of Republican state senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Benacquisto is the lone woman running in a four-way race to replace former congressman Trey Radel. Radel, who once worked for WINK News, resigned earlier this year following a conviction for cocaine possession and treatment for alcohol addiction.
Palin's endorsement is a potential big win for Benacquisto's campaign. But the decision is drawing the ire of some Tea Party members in Southwest Florida. The Tea Party Express recently announced its endorsement of Republican candidate Curt Clawson. A representative of the Clawson campaign stood just off the property of the Benacquisto event, sharing copies of an open letter to Palin that expressed disapproval in her choice.
Benacquisto has also come under fire by those who say she is not attending public forums and missing opportunities to meet with voters.
Benacquisto and her supporters say she's working hard to balance two jobs at once: the office she holds in Tallahassee, and the race for Congress.
A primary election is scheduled April 22, which will advance one of the four Republican candidates to the Special Election in June. Whoever wins the June election will fill the remainder of Radel's term, through the end of the year. There will be another race for the seat in November's general election.
The Republican candidates for the April primary include Lizbeth Benacquisto, Curt Clawson, Page Kreegel, and Michael Dreikorn.
April Freeman is the lone Democrat in the race, and Ray Netherwood is running on the Libertarian ticket. They will face the Republican challenger in June.