Florida Republicans on Monday named state Rep. Joe Negron as a replacement candidate for the scandal-plagued former Rep. Mark Foley (R) in the 16th district, but they acknowledged that they have a heavy lift in educating the public about who to vote for on Nov. 7.
“It will be a quick and interesting challenge,” said Jeff Sadosky, spokesman for the Florida GOP. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Because Foley’s name will remain on the ballot even though he resigned from Congress last week after his sexually tinged e-mails to underage House pages became public, Negron, along with state and national Republicans, will have to not only run a campaign introducing a new candidate to voters, but also will have to embark on an educational campaign blitz that will encourage voters to cast their votes for Foley anyway. And they’ll have to do it with just five weeks until the election.
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged Monday on a conservative talk radio program that retaining the seat would be virtually impossible for Republicans.
“I think they found a candidate to put on the ballot,” Boehner told host Sean Hannity. “But in order to vote for this candidate, you have to vote for Mark Foley. How many people are going to hold their nose to do that?”
Still, Sadosky expressed confidence that voters in the 16th district, which hugs the Atlantic coast in South-central Florida, will “want to learn about this process” whereby the person they vote for is not the person on the ballot.
Under state law, political parties can designate new candidates to receive the votes of candidates who withdraw after the primary election results have been certified.
“Foley’s name is on the ballot, but he ain’t running,” Sadosky said. “He is no longer part of this campaign. ... The issues are going to be the issues [voters] face every day, and not Mark Foley.”
In picking Negron, who turns 45 on Monday, Republicans chose a seasoned political operator with proven crossover appeal who is finishing out his last term in the state Legislature as chairman of the appropriations and budget panel. Florida lawmakers face six-year term limits.
Negron also has almost $1 million sitting in a state campaign fund for his failed bid to win the Florida GOP’s attorney general primary this year. Negron deferred to former Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) and dropped out of the race months before the primary.
Although Negron cannot simply transfer those funds directly into a federal campaign account, nearly $600,000 of it would be permissible under federal campaign rules if Negron refunds the money from his state campaign account and ask donors to resend their contributions to his new federal account. But instead of facing $500 contribution limits in Florida, Negron can ask individual donors for the $2,000 federal maximum, Sadosky said.
Still, Sadosky said no decision had been made as to when Negron might begin airing political ads.
Democratic candidate Tim Mahoney, a rancher who already was giving Foley a run for his money prior to the page scandal, had $344,000 in his campaign account as of Aug. 16. On Monday, he issued a statement calling on Negron to “join me in calling for a full investigation of the tragic events that led to the resignation of Congressman Foley so that the mothers and fathers who entrust their children to the United States Congress’ page program can be assured that their children are not put at risk.”
Though Mahoney’s statement mentioned the Foley flap, his spokeswoman Jessica Santillo said Foley’s troubles would not continue to be a major part of the campaign.
“The campaign has and will continue to be focused on the critical issues facing Florida’s 16th district,” Santillo said.
Santillo said Mahoney would be emphasizing upcoming events with popular former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) in an effort to show that he is a moderate and conservative Democrat.
But Florida Republicans were already trying to go back on the offensive, saying Mahoney’s appearance over the weekend with 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) proves he is more liberal than he says he is.
The 16th district gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote in 2004 to Kerry’s 46 percent.
“This is a Republican district,” Negron told CNN during an interview late Monday. “I’m willing to fight to keep the seat in the Republican column and work for our president.”