Reps. Gary Aubuchon, Paige Kreegel highlight packed field in SW Florida’s 19 Congressional District
Six Republican candidates are on the ballot in the district, which runs from North Fort Myers down through Fort Myers and Cape Coral, south through Bonita Springs and into Naples and Marco Island.
While the city of Fort Myers is diverse, much of the district takes in wealthy coastal communities, including the areas along the Gulf Coast in Collier County – multi-millionaire Gov. Rick Scott’s old neighborhood. The median family income in Collier County is nearly $60,000. Even in the “poorer” part of the district, in Lee County, the median income is over $50,000.
The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary will face Democratic candidate Jim Roach. But the district is Republican enough that most observers expect Tuesday’s primary to decide the winner. While the district has been redrawn, former members of Congress from this area include Porter Goss, Connie Mack III and Connie Mack IV, staunch Republicans, all.
In fact, it’s one of the most Republican areas of the state. In 2008, John McCain outpolled Democrat Barack Obama by a 57-42 percent margin. In 2000, George W. Bush beat his Democratic opponent Al Gore by a 60-38 percent margin.
The platforms are not significantly different as all six candidates rail against federal health care coverage and government spending, while cautioning over potential cuts in defense spending, and vowing to reduce taxes.
“Ideologically, there is not a great divide among us,” state Rep. Gary Aubuchon said this week during a debate televised by WRXY TV in Fort Myers. “That makes it incredibly hard for voters to decide. What distinguishes me is my leadership experience.”
Aubuchon is joined by a fellow state representative, a the son of a well-known former congressman, and a trio of newcomers including a well-financed and popular conservative talk show host who has garnered the support of incumbent Rep. Connie Mack IV, who isn’t running for the seat because he’s running instead for the U.S. Senate.
Organization may make the difference in a scrum in which 25 percent of the vote could determine the winner.
“From here on out it is going to come down to who can get their people out and to the polls come Tuesday,” said Keith Arnold, a former state lawmaker from Fort Myers.
In addition to Aubuchon, the other candidates include Chauncey Goss – the son of former Rep. Porter Goss; state Rep. Paige Kreegel; and radio talk show host Trey Radel. Rounding out the field are Joe Davidow and Byron Donalds, who have mounted grassroots campaigns but lack significant financial backing.
Aubuchon, 50, has pushed his six-year stint in the Florida House, including the past two years during which he was chairman of the House Rules Committee, one of the top posts in the chamber.
A developer by profession, Aubuchon has received endorsements from Florida Realtors and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Kreegel, 53, who owns a home in Estero, spent the past eight years in the Florida House. But Kreegel stressed this week that he has not been timid about going against the wishes of party leadership.
“I have gotten better at pressing the red button,” Kreegel said in regard to opposing some measures in the Republican-led House.
Kreegel’s endorsements have come from what most would see as the tea party wing of the Republican fold, including the U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams and U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.
Goss, 46, brings to the race a familiar name as he tries to represent the same congressional district his father, former CIA Director Porter Goss, held throughout most of the 1990s.
The younger Goss has been a staff member for U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, and has publicly endorsed his former staffer. Other Goss backers include former Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Davidow, 28, Donalds, 33, and Radel are all positioning themselves as outsiders who will offer fresh perspectives on what they contend is a gridlocked Congress, where entrenched forces make significant reform virtually impossible.
Radel, 36, a conservative radio talk show host and former TV reporter, has the endorsement of his predecessor, Mack. He’s also received support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“I’m running because I’m tired of talking about it,” Radel told a reporter earlier this year.
Donalds, a Naples-based financial advisor, surprised observers by getting the endorsement of the Naples Daily News editorial board. He said this week that he is proud of his outsider status.
“We need a champion for the individual, not another member of a party,” Donalds said in the WXRY debate. “I think it is time for regular people to go back to Washington.”
Davidow, an attorney, also pledged to bring a citizen’s perspective back to Washington, which he said is mired in gridlock.
“I have the courage to stand up to my own party if I don’t think they are right,” Davidow said.
WELL FUNDED FIELD.
With only days left in the critical primary, the candidates are ramping up efforts. Kreegel said his campaign will make a final push over the next several days in the form of mailings, telephone calls and TV and radio spots. He expects his opponents will do the same.
Kreegel has led the fundraising pack with $480,062, but Radel, Aubuchon and Goss have all raised more than $400,000.