Pushing past a crowded field with relative ease, former radio talk show host Trey Radel rode a conservative wave last week to become the Republican candidate for Congress in a GOP dominated district in southwest Florida, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.
Facing a pair of state lawmakers and the heir apparent to a local political legend, the 36-year-old newcomer stunned pundits, some of whom mentioned his name only in passing when talking about the six-candidate field.
Instead, Radel won the primary decisively, capturing 30 percent of the vote and bettering the second place candidate by an 8.5 point margin despite the lack of legislative experience or a political pedigree.
He now faces Democratic candidate Jim Roach to represent Congressional District 19, a district that in 2008 chose Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by a 57-42 percent margin.
Radel credited his primary victory to voter displeasure with both political parties, congressional gridlock and an economic fog that has yet to lift. A staunch critic of national health care reform and deficit spending, Radel’s campaign has called for a continuation of tea party-led efforts to send non-career politicians to Washington.
“What is very important is that our country needs unification,” Radel said in a Naples Daily News video interview last week. “This community is wonderful, we are a conservative bastion. I will take our conservative values and principles to Washington.”
The message appeared to resonate. The political neophyte in his first campaign defeated a field that included Chauncey Goss, the son of former Congressman and CIA Director Porter Goss, who represented the region in Congress from 1990 to 2004, and state Reps. Gary Aubuchon and Paige Kreegel.
But Radel had something no other candidate had, a daily soap box from which to send a message and reach the conservative faithful outside the political establishment. As host of a conservative radio and television simulcast, Radel was a daily visitor to thousands of Southwest Florida homes.
The son of a funeral home director, Radel grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from a Catholic high school. In 2000, he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Loyola University in Chicago.
After an internship at CNN in Atlanta, Radel worked at broadcast stations in Chicago and Houston before moving to Southwest Florida where he became a reporter for WINK TV beginning in 2002.
In 2005, Radel left WINK and purchased the Naples Journal, a community and society lifestyles newspaper. He sold the publication a year later to E.W. Scripps Co., the owner of the Naples Daily News. He returned to WINK in 2007 and became an anchor.
Radel left broadcasting again in 2009 to start up a media relations firm, Trey Communications. Among its business endeavors, the company bought and sold thousands of Internet domain names, including some racy, Spanish language names that would likely be used for adults-only content. Radel said he is unaware that any of those names were ever used.
After leaving WINK, Radel became a local radio talk show host on Fox 92.5 FM, with his show also broadcast on TV-6. The program would become a conservative platform from which Radel would enter the political fray. He announced his candidacy in January.
During the campaign, Radel used his business expertise to his advantage. He bought up several website names that could have been used by his political opponents. Criticized by his rivals, Radel defended the action as solid and savvy political strategy. He ended up shutting down the sites
Radel earned the support of the man he hopes to replace. U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, who is running for the U.S. Senate, was among a handful of conservative backers who came to Radel’s side. Also on the short list were Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III.
“Trey Radel is the conservative southwest Florida needs in Congress,” the younger Mack said in his endorsement.
He has supported tough, Arizona-like immigration laws and revamping social security and Medicare for younger citizens while preserving benefits for those 55 and over. He calls for expanding oil and gas drilling in the U.S.
“The biggest issue that I have in today’s hyper partisan climate is that the second you talk about securing the border you are a racist,” Radel told the Naples paper. “The second you talk about saving – not cutting but saving –Medicare and Social Security … you’re against old people or young people.”