A crowded field is already forming for the special election to replace embattled Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), after the freshman finally bowed to political pressure and will step down later Monday.
With a solidly GOP seat at stake, many of the freshman's former rivals, and the man he succeeded, are at the top of the list to succeed the congressman following his sudden downfall, after he was arrested for cocaine possession last month.
Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who has a deep-pocketed super-PAC already boosting him in the race, had already announced his intentions to run in the primary against Radel. Kreegel said in a Monday statement that Radel "did the right thing" in resigning and pledged to bring "serious representation" to the district.
“Southwest Florida should expect a Congressman who can lead, a Congressman without distractions, and a Congressman they can trust," said Kreegel, who finished third in the 2012 primary.
Many Republicans say state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto would also be a formidable contender, as a young, female candidate and proven fundraiser. She's been using money from her state Senate campaign coffers to air ads in the area to boost her profile, which has drawn attacks from the super-PAC backing Kreegel.
The Miami Herald reported Monday Benacquisto is in Washington to discuss her potential run with fundraisers and operatives, but she gave no indication of her plans in a statement released Monday, only commending Radel for "making the right decision" to resign.
Goss, a policy consultant who finished second to Radel in 2012, said he’d be making his decision within the week and that his main consideration in deciding is money.
The former staffer to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he was confident he ran a strong race last cycle, but the money simply dried up.
“I thought we ran a very good campaign last time. If I learned anything, it’s that we need to raise more,” said Goss.
Asked whether he was worried about the fact that Kreegel, with a deep-pocketed Super-PAC, could already have a head start, Goss admitted, “It’s always a concern.”
Goss stepped off the plane in Washington, D.C., Monday morning to find his cell phone “blowing up” with calls and messages urging him to run, he said, after Radel’s morning announcement.
Though in town just for business, Goss said he was reaching out to old friends on Capitol Hill now that the race is developing and plans to contact the National Republican Congressional Committee about the seat.
Naples Vice Mayor Gary Price, who has long been considering the race, told The Hill he didn’t have his next steps planned out, but Radel’s sudden announcement would accelerate his decision-making process. He said he expects to have a final decision by the end of the week and has been receiving heavy encouragement to jump in the race.
But Price was already making a pitch for his candidacy, even though he hasn’t officially entered the race.
“I believe that I could be helpful in changing the kinds of conversations we have in Washington. It’s in my DNA,” he said.
Price touted his work on the city council, a term-limited position from which he’ll step down in February, as qualifications to reach across the aisle.
“Making the kinds of decisions that I’ve made on a nonpartisan level, without an agenda, without the influence of any political action committees or special interests makes me the best person for the position,” he said.
Price admitted, however, he’d have to work to raise his profile in the district, as he’s only well-known in Collier County, which makes up about 30 percent of the district.
Mack has also been considering another bid for the seat since news of Radel’s legal issues surfaced.
Mack said in a statement Monday that Radel’s resignation was “the right decision” but left his intentions on the race murky. He did, however, tout his own policy proposal — the Mack Penny Plan, a proposal to balance the budget that he launched during his failed Senate bid — as a guiding principle for the race.
“We must begin to solve the real long-term challenges facing our country, including restoring fiscal discipline to our politics and our policies. That includes being a staunch advocate for the Mack Penny Plan which would cut spending and balance our budget in a common-sense responsible manner,” the former congressman said in his statement. “The people of Southwest Florida and the nation deserve nothing less."
A source close to Mack indicated the special election might entice him to run. “It presents a scenario very beneficial to Mack,” the source said.
Curt Clawson, a businessman and former Purdue basketball star who announced his bid for the seat last week, said that Radel’s resignation wouldn’t affect his campaign.
"My campaign was never about Trey. This campaign is about bringing an outsider with real world business experience to solve the difficult problems facing our country because the career politicians and special interests are failing us,” he said in a statement. “I have the business experience making the tough decisions that are required to clean up Washington DC."
Mitt Romney won Radel’s district in 2012 with more than 60 percent of the vote. The seat hasn’t been held by a Democrat in decades.
— Rebecca Shabad contributed to this report.
— This post was updated at 4:24 p.m.