MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF) — Curt Clawson, a Republican businessman from Bonita Springs whose renown six months ago was limited to his hard-court days at Purdue University, is heading to Congress.
Voters in the Republican-leaning Southwest Florida district overwhelming selected Clawson in a special election Tuesday over Cape Coral Democrat April Freeman and Marco Island Libertarian Ray Netherwood to fill the seat vacated by disgraced former congressman Trey Radel.
Radel, a Republican from Fort Myers, resigned in late January after being arrested on a cocaine-possession charge.
Clawson received 67 percent of the vote in unofficial returns.
“We have leaders who say our best days are behind us. … I reject that premise. I reject that theory,” Clawson told supporters, according to the Naples Daily News.
Clawson, who was a captain on the Boilermakers’ basketball team that won the 1984 Big Ten Conference championship, pumped $3.6 million of his own money into the primary and special elections, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
After college, Clawson, 54, worked his way up to president and COO of American National Can, the global leader in manufacturing beverage cans, and CEO of Hayes Lemmerz International Inc., the world’s largest maker of steel and aluminum wheels.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Leslie Dougher congratulated Clawson for his “well-earned” victory.
“Congressman-elect Clawson will undoubtedly serve his district with distinction, bringing true conservative values to our nation’s capital,” Dougher said in a release.
Clawson’s reward for Tuesday’s victory will be less than five months in office before the seat again goes before voters in November. Clawson, by then the incumbent, will again be the front-runner.
Clawson, Freeman, and Netherwood have all qualified for the November election. None have drawn primary opponents.
Freeman, who works for a company involved with product placement on television and in movies, received 29 percent of the vote. As of June 4, Freeman, 50, had spent $107,593 of the $129,619 she had raised for the race, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
Netherwood, a 57-year-old retired U.S. Air Force captain who worked as a health care administrator, picked up 4 percent of the vote. Netherwood raised $43,830 and spent $39,121. Both Freeman and Netherwood were previously registered as Republicans.
The 19th District, which makes up most of the area between Fort Myers in Lee County and Marco Island in Collier County, is made up of about 45 percent registered Republicans and 27 percent Democrats. Both the Naples Daily News and the Fort Myers News-Press endorsed Clawson.
Clawson received 39 percent of the vote in a heated primary in which he defeated Fort Myers Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Pine Island businessman Michael Dreikorn, and former state representative Paige Kreegel of Punta Gorda.
Both Clawson and Benacquisto aligned themselves with tea party leaders in the primary. However, Benacquisto was viewed as the establishment candidate, while Clawson campaigned as an “outsider” in an appeal to the region’s conservative voters.
Radel, a former conservative radio talk host and TV news anchorman, won the seat with 62 percent of the vote in 2012.
Election supervisors in both counties have estimated the cost of the primary and special election at $1.6 million.
This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.