FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - The Republican voters of southwest Florida have either been entertained or appalled by the allegations made by the candidates seeking to replace their congressman, who resigned in January after being arrested for buying cocaine.
The campaign in the solidly GOP district to replace Trey Radel has been marred by allegations of connections to child sex offenders, questionable business dealings and negative attack ads.
The winner of Tuesday's special election will still likely defeat a Democratic challenger in the June 24 general election.
There are four candidates on the GOP ballot: Lizbeth Benacquisto, a 46-year-old state senator; Curt Clawson, a 54-year-old former CEO of an aluminum wheel company; Michael Dreikorn, a 52-year-old aerospace and defense consultant; and Paige Kreegel, a 55-year-old physician.
Benacquisto has been endorsed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin - who called Benacquisto a fellow "mama grizzly" who will protect southwest Florida.
Clawson has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who called the former Purdue college basketball player "an outsider who will bring refreshing ideas to the halls of Congress."
As of Friday, Clawson had raised the most money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics - a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics - Clawson has raised $2.8 million. Benacquisto has raised about $980,000, while Kreegel has raised $236,000 and Dreikorn, $17,000.
A total of $2.1 million has been spent by outside groups - largely on attack ads.
Voters in the district - which includes most of Lee County and part of Collier County - have been exposed to a barrage of negative television ads, with Benacquisto, Clawson and Kreegel attacking each other's conservative credentials and background.