Curt Clawson wins CD 19 special GOP primary with 38% of vote

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Curt Clawson has won the special GOP primary in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

With strong support from local and national GOP heavyweights such as former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Michelle Bachman and the Tea Party Express, Clawson finished with 38% of the nearly 70,000 votes cast.

Florida Senate Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto was in second with 26%.

Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel took 25%.

The race to succeed Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned in January after an arrest for cocaine possession in Washington D.C., was characterized by a barrage of negative TV commercials and mailings, with PACs supporting both Kreegel and Benacquisto responsible for the majority of the ads.

Benacquisto, considered the frontrunner in the race from almost the beginning, had high-profile endorsements from Sarah Palin, U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Tom Rooney, as well as other key members of Congress. However, as the campaign went on, her relationship to the negative ads run against Clawson and Kreegel may have helped mobilize voters — many sympathetic to the Tea Party platform — behind Clawson.

Campaign rhetoric also peaked when Clawson’s three Republican opponents issued a joint press release calling for the candidate to explain his ties to a man in Utah living in a house Clawson owned. The man, Glen Borst, had been convicted of attempted sexual assault on a child. Clawson’s campaign responded that although he knew Borst from childhood, he had not talked to him in years.

Clawson is the former CEO of automotive-wheel manufacturer Hayes Lemmerz International and served as Chief Operating Officer of American National Can. In college, he was senior captain of the Purdue University basketball team, winner of the Big Ten Championship in 1984 under Coach of the Year, Gene Keady.

Clawson will now face Democrat April Freeman, Libertarian Party Ray Netherwood and write-in candidate Timothy Rossano in the June 24 general election.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.