**UPDATE: Benacquisto announced, her letter to supporters is below**
Florida Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto is calling and telling supporters she intends to announce as soon as Monday that she'll run for the congressional seat vacated by Trey Radel after a cocaine scandal.
Benacquisto's announcement should come as no surprise to those who have read this space since November. At the time, there were rumblings about her running for CD-19 -- even if Radel stayed in. After Radel finally quit last week, we were the first to tell you she was DC-bound to talk to Republicans and conservative groups to line up support.
"She's making calls," said a Republican. "A statement should be released Monday."
Benacquisto's candidacy is almost a no-lose proposition. She doesn't have to resign her Fort Myers-based seat to run for the congressional district, which she already represents in good measure. The special election primary is April 22; the general is June 24.
This is the perfect week to announce. It's committee week in Tallahassee, a great time to fundraise.
The special-election season just happens to stretch through the 60-day regular lawmaking session that begins March 4. State legislators seeking reelection are generally prohibited from fundraising during session, but that ban doesn't apply to those candidates seeking federal office.
Also, as a high-ranking legislative leader, she has the backing of the Republican Party power structure and legislative leaders who can fundraise directly for her or for a Super PAC, which can receive and spend unlimited sums.
Benacquisto has already spent some of her state Senate money on ads that were widely viewed as the precursor to a congressional run. The spots prompted an attack-ad response from a Super PAC backing Republican candidate Paige Kreegel. That led to demand from the Republican Party of Florida that the ad be pulled. The PAC refused. The background is here.
Consider that a warm-up.
Meantime, an X-factor candidate, political newcomer/unknown Curt Clawson, is running for the seat as well as the "outsider."
Today I am announcing my candidacy to be your next Representative from the 19th Congressional District. After careful consideration and with the full support of my family, I know that this is the best way for me to continue to serve Southwest Florida. My decision follows thoughtful dialogue with my friends, business leaders and the incredible people of this community. The encouragement I have received from our community to take on this challenge has been both humbling and inspirational.
With your support and trust, it has been an honor to serve as your voice in the State Senate, where we balance our budget and pay our debts. I have continued to work hard every day to keep that trust. In just three short years, I have taken on special interests and fought to bring meaningful change to Tallahassee. Most importantly, as a tireless advocate for our shared conservative values, I have worked to protect individual liberty, reduce the size of government, and support free market solutions.
We are a nation founded on the liberties that can only come from our Creator. Our Founders, divinely inspired, took up a cause for which they risked everything including their own lives. Today that spirit still burns brightly in many of us, but it is threatened by a system of cronyism and special interests that ignore self-evident truths.
For the sake of my two children and yours, I will solve the problems that politicians - Democrats and Republicans alike - ignore. This means we must return control of our education system to the local level and to the parents who can chart the best course forward for their families. We must repeal the disastrous experiment called Obamacare and put an end to "government knows best" healthcare. Additionally, because of the threat it causes to our national security and America's future, we must stop piling debt upon our children and future generations by spending more than we have. The time for strong and principled action is now.
If you honor me with your vote and your trust, each and every day I will fight for the principles that guided our Founders. I will respect the trust you place in me, and I will serve you with a dignity that reflects our shared commitment to getting Florida and our great nation back on the road to prosperity.
Throughout this campaign I look forward to visiting with you in your neighborhoods and hearing your thoughts, concerns and ideas to help shape our future. There’s no doubt that special interests and those who want bigger government will challenge our values in this campaign, but I know that by working together, we can bring common sense back to the people's House. The things we value most are worth fighting for, and I would be honored to have you join our team.