As State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto draws a challenger for her Florida Senate seat, rumors continue to build over her plans to run for Congress.
The Fort Myers Republican released a TV spot for her 2014 re-election bid, with a political group responding with another ad saying she is not up front about her true intentions; she is actually running for U.S. Rep. Trey Radel’s seat.
“She’s running for re-election for state Senate,” Benacquisto’s re-election campaign spokesperson Brian Hughes told Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of the Naples Daily News. “She’s running a campaign plan that’s over a year old.”
With more than $511,000 in campaign contributions so far, Benacquisto is ready for any challengers.
Tom LePine filed paperwork Jan. 6 in a bid for the Benacquisto’s House District 30 Senate seat. This will be the first time the North Fort Myers Republican runs for public office.
First elected in 2010, Benacquisto faced no primary challenger in 2012 and won more than 62 percent of the general election ballot. She is now the state Senate majority leader.
There had been talk that Benacquisto would become lieutenant governor in the weeks right after the resignation of LG Jennifer Carroll. Later, the talk turned to her becoming a candidate for Radel’s District 19 seat.
“It is my understanding that she has a sincere interest in potentially pursuing the congressional seat,” State Sen. Garrett Richter told the Daily News. “If she does get into that race, I believe she is an extremely qualified candidate. She has earned my respect. She has great values. She has a tremendous work ethic. She’s just a good person.”
Republicans all through Congressional District 19 are considering running for the seat, ever since Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in November. Although he filed to run, Radel has not publically announced his is seeking re-election.
Benacquisto is also not talking about her plans, telling reporters in December she was weighing her options.
“You know, it’s humbling that anyone would consider your name for an opportunity to serve in such a special way,” she said to the Daily News last month. “So because of that, you give it all the consideration and deliberation that it takes, both as an individual and on behalf of my family and where I think I can make the most impact in my service.”
Benacquisto is “focused on doing the job she currently has,” Hughes said.
“She’s currently proud to be the voice of Southwest Florida in the state Senate,” he added. “She’s proud of her service and continuing to run for re-election.”
So far, five Republicans are saying they are in the congressional race — Radel and Kreegel, Bonita Springs resident Curt Clawson, Mike Giallombardo and Brian Gibens, both of Cape Coral.
Other candidates are Democrat April Freeman from Cape Coral and Libertarian Party candidate Ray Netherwood from Marco Island.
LePine planned to run against Benacquisto in 2012, but did not due to paperwork problems. He pondered a 2014 run, ultimately deciding to jump into the race.
“I’ve seen some of her positions, and I think now is a good time (to run),” LePine said. “I have some other ideas that I could help the state and the county a lot more.”