FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Curt Clawson has won a Republican primary in a special election that was called after the district's congressman resigned in January after being arrested for buying cocaine.
With 96 percent of precincts counted, Clawson had 38 percent of the vote in Tuesday's four-way race, ahead of Lizbeth Benacquisto, who had 26 percent. Paige Kreegel had 25 percent and Michael Dreikorn had 11 percent.
“All is forgiven," Clawson said to his challengers. "I want you on the team. We need to unite Southwest Florida.”
During Clawson's victory speech, he hit several key points about his campaign. "I put the Economic Growth Plan together with Connie Mack’s Penny Plan," he said. "Because we need to cut spending in addition to Economic Growth. And I will continue to promote the Penny Plan in Washington and across the country.”
“I got into this race because I felt like we needed more Outsiders in Congress. The career politicians aren’t getting the job done, and I don’t see a whole lot of people in Washington with the experience as a CEO in making the tough decisions to save our country.”
Clawson also addressed the President, saying the two them well not a agree on much. "I am going to challenge you on Obamacare," Clawson said to President Obama. "I am going to challenge you on spending. I am going to challenge you on economic growth. But first, I am going to challenge you on the basketball court. It’s time to man up and accept the three-point challenge. My house or yours?”
Some candidates have expressed their congratulations to Clawson. "I've called Curt," said Benacquisto. "I've wished him well. I told him we would be good partners moving forward if he's successful in June, which I know he will be."
"This was a very competitive race and I congratulate Curt Clawson on his victory," said Kreegel. "The voters of District 19 have spoken, and I'm hopeful that, when elected, he will closely consider the values of Southwest Florida with every vote he casts."
Dreikorn, however, says he plans to make another run for the District 19 seat in the August primary for the November general election. "I am going to double down, triple down over the next few months," he said. "To make sure you know I'll be your next candidate."
One the calling cards of this republican primary has been the negative television advertisements. Dreikorn says, before the general election, the Florida GOP needs to come together. "This has been a divisive campaign," said Dreikorn. "The republican party needs to heal itself and I would ask any future candidates not to focus on the personalities, but rather the issues."
Meanwhile, Clawson, the 54-year-old former CEO of an aluminum wheel company, will face Democrat April Freeman in the June 24 general election in the heavily Republican district, which includes parts of Lee and Collier counties. Freeman released this statement following Clawson's victory:
"Tonight's results prove that voters across Southwest Florida will have a clear choice on June 24th," said Freeman. "In Congress, I'll work to create more economic opportunity for the middle class and ensure women get equal pay for equal work."
"Curt Clawson is a Tea Party chosen candidate who took government bailout money and laid off 1,300 people-just more of the same Washington hypocrisy," Freeman said. "Southwest Floridians deserves to be represented by someone who will fight for their jobs, not someone who made millions by laying off his employees. I will protect middle class families-working across party lines to get real results for Southwest Florida."
The winner will fill the seat left vacant by Trey Radel, who pleaded guilty to cocaine charges.
A total of $2.1 million was spent on the race by outside groups, largely on attack ads.