Matt Gaetz kicks off U.S. House campaign with “Fight Washington” bus tour

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Rep. Matt Gaetz knows voters are angry. He’s angry too.

Invective against “spineless politicians” and “lawless bureaucrats” peppered the Ft. Walton Beach Republican’s campaign kick off tour around Northwest Florida on Saturday.

The 33-year-old lawmaker is seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, whose announced retirement from Congress has set off a chain reaction of electoral maneuvering across the 1st Congressional District.

In his “Fight Washington Bus Tour” over the weekend, Gaetz seized on the visceral frustrations many voters — particularly Republicans — have expressed in the 2016 Presidential primaries.

“It almost seems like sometimes it doesn’t matter which party wins national elections,”said Gaetz. “The politicians come to Washington, D.C. and basically become valets, catering to the whims of the same powerful interest groups.”

“That is not who I am,” he added emphatically.

Gaetz hopes to capitalize on sentiments like that in order to get past Sen. Greg Evers in what is shaping up to be a heated GOP primary in August.

Gaetz said he voted for Donald Trump in the Florida GOP primary, and repeatedly sounded notes similar to the New York real estate mogul’s populist-tinged brand of politics.

As his father, former Senate President Don Gaetz, watched on across four stops in Miramar Beach, Ft. Walton Beach, Navarre, and Pensacola, Gaetz decried illegal immigration from Mexico and Islamic terrorists who seek to “destroy our way of life,” along with liberal politicians, including President Barack Obama, who he said sit back and watch those threats advance unabated.

Gaetz also attempted to seize the most coveted political mantle of 2016 — that of the outsider.

“I’m not running because I want to go to Washington, D.C. — I’m running because we can’t trust Washington, D.C.,” said Gaetz in his stump speech, a theme he would reiterate throughout.

The day of campaigning was also replete with deeply emotional appeals to Red America’s gravest fears. Testifying on Gaetz’ behalf, for example, was a woman who was kidnapped at gunpoint several years ago. The upshot of her story was that had she been armed with a weapon and the kind of open-carry legislation favored by Gaetz, she would have stood a better chance against her attacker.

More to the point, she would have “unloaded my gun” into her assailant, typifying the red meat rhetoric largely on offer Saturday.

“In Northwest Florida, the most conservative candidate wins and I’ve got the most conservative record in this race without question,” Gaetz told

Though most observers would say Gaetz and Evers are roughly equivalent in their political orientation, Gaetz pointed towards Evers “cozy relationship with big labor” and past support for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as guideposts which will show voters Gaetz is the more reliable conservative vote.

“Senator Evers has been a good friend of mine for 15 years, but we do have disagreements on issues,” said Gaetz. “He supported expanding Obamacare expansion; I led the fight against it.”

He predicted that rift — wherein the Senate “FHIX” plan ultimately lost out to a hard-right House that was “not dancing” when it came to expanding Medicaid — would be a “major issue” in the CD 1 primary.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at