Republican Francis Rooney will defeat Democrat Robert M. Neeld in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, The Associated Press projects.
Rooney led Neeld 63.7 percent to 36.3 percent with 0 percent of precincts reporting.
The seat opened up with the retirement of incumbent GOP Rep. Curt Clawson, who said he wanted to be closer to his ailing father.
Florida’s 19th District takes in most of Lee County, including the adjacent cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers, and stretches into the coastline of Collier County through Naples to Marco Island.
Clawson first won his seat in a special election in 2014 to replace former GOP Rep. Trey Radel who resigned in the midst of a cocaine scandal. He won re-election to a full term later that year. Both times, he cruised to victory by more than 30 points.
Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in the strongly conservative 19th District. No surprise then that coming into Election Day, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rated the race as Safe Republican.
Florida’s congressional races are important because they will help shape the balance of power between the establishment and the House Freedom Caucus — and its sympathizers — in next year’s GOP conference.
Rooney, the member-elect, is a construction industry magnate, a former ambassador to the Vatican, and a Republican mega-donor who was born in Oklahoma, spent much of his career in Texas, and moved to Naples in 2002. His company had a role in building the Capitol Visitor Center.
His company has done business in the Caribbean, Mexico and other Latin American countries and he’s fluent in Spanish. He has a pro-global trade perspective that has more in common with his friend George W. Bush than with this year’s GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Rooney beat two rivals in the Aug. 30 GOP primary, receiving 53 percent of the vote, after underwriting his campaign with more than $3 million of his own fortune.
Rooney has known Bush for years, and worked with him when his company won the contract to build the Texas Rangers Stadium in the early 1990s. Bush was the managing partner of the baseball team. In 2005, Bush chose Rooney to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
His major focus in Congress will be trying to get federal funds to stop the contamination of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which has been caused in part by the Army Corps of Engineers releasing water from Lake Okeechobee.
“We’ve got dark water coming out of the Caloosahatchee River around Sanibel and even coming all the way down into Collier County,” he says. “This is a serious threat to our tourism and our economy.”