Poll: Fla. House hopeful comes out on top

Former business executive Curt Clawson is leading a pack of Republicans vying to fill former Rep. Trey Radel's (R) House seat, left open after the Florida Republican pleaded guilty to a drug charge in January.

The primary special election is scheduled for Tuesday, and about 38 percent of voters surveyed said they would cast a ballot for Clawson, according to a poll from Florida news outlets News-Press and WINK News.

Clawson has also vastly outspent his opponents, pouring more than $2.3 million dollars into the race with help from a

nearly $2.7 million personal loan from his own bank account.

Lizbeth Benacquisto received support from 19 percent of respondents in Lee and Collier Counties, while the other challengers, Michael Dreikorn and Paige Kreegel, received 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively. 

Benacquisto has raised nearly $981,000 – mostly from contributions of more than $250 – and has spent about $797,000. Each of the other GOP contenders have raised and spent a fraction of those totals, according to federal records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

There has also been a surge of outside money into the primary battle – most of which has been directed at Clawson.

Outside groups such as the super-PAC Values Are Vital have spent more than $884,000 trying to defeat him. There has been about $117,500 spent by super-PACs and other outside groups to help push him across the finish line. 

Benacquisto has raised nearly $981,000 – mostly from contributions of more than $200 – and has spent about $797,000. Each of the other GOP contenders have raised and spent a fraction of those totals, according to federal records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The super-PAC Values Are Vital is spending money against all the other Republicans and prefers Kreegel. It has helped to spend more than $450,000 on her behalf.

The new poll results suggest that the money to run negative ads may have been misused, with 88 percent of men and 89 percent of women surveyed saying the race had become too negative. 

And while Benacquisto won the endorsement of Sarah Palin, Clawson may have solidified his conservative cred with an endorsement from the Tea Party Express.

Public Policy Polling completed the survey early last week of 669 registered Republicans who said they were likely to vote in the primary special election.