'Outsider' wins nod to succeed Radel

Curt Clawson the outsider for Congress

Self-funding businessman Curt Clawson (R) has won the GOP primary to replace former Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), all but guaranteeing him a seat in Congress.

The Associated Press has called the race for Clawson, who was leading with 38 percent of the vote in the crowded field with 96 of precincts reporting. State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto (R) had 26 percent, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel (R) had 25 percent and businessman Michael Dreikorn (R) had 11 percent.

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Clawson, a former Purdue University basketball star and auto manufacturing executive, used his fortune to pound the airwaves early and often in the race to paint himself as an outsider. 

He circled back to his "outsider" label in his victory speech Tuesday.

“I got into this race because I felt like we needed more Outsiders in Congress. The career politicians aren’t getting the job done, and I don’t see a whole lot of people in Washington with the experience as a CEO in making the tough decisions to save our country," he said, according to prepared remarks.

He also joked about challenging President Obama to a three-point contest, as he did in his first campaign ad.

“To President Obama: We aren’t going to agree on much," he said. "I am going to challenge you on Obamacare. I am going to challenge you on spending. I am going to challenge you on economic growth. But first, I am going to challenge you on the basketball court. It’s time to man up and accept the three-point challenge. My house or yours?”

Clawson's first ad debuted during the Super Bowl, while the other candidates were still scrambling for funds, less than a week after Radel resigned following a bust for cocaine possession.

He focused on branding himself as a business-minded problem solver throughout the campaign, tagging himself as an "outsider" in nearly every ad and picking up endorsements from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who held the district until he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2012.

Benacquisto, the establishment favorite, posted strong fundraising figures, raising $700,000 for the abbreviated campaign. But that was no match for Clawson’s deep pockets, and Benacquisto was outspent by a wide margin for most of the race. 

She seemed to have momentum in the closing days of the campaign, however, boosted by endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). She and Kreegel  also benefitted from heavy spending by super-PACs backing them and attacking Clawson on the air throughout the district — more than $2 million between the two groups.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) congratulated Clawson, who is a lock to win the June special election in the heavily Republican southwest Florida district.

"Congratulations are in order for Curt Clawson," he said in a statement. “Curt’s commonsense business skills will help him fight for Florida families and ensure a bright future for generations to come."

This post was updated at 8:48 p.m.