Benacquisto back to work in Florida Legislature after losing special primary for U.S. House

5:35 p.m Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Local

The morning after losing a special Republican congressional primary she was initially expected to win, state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto was back at her job in the Capitol in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Former Wellington councilwoman Benacquisto hasn’t made an announcement about her future plans, but people close to her expect her to run for re-election to her Southwest Florida Senate seat this year. She has raised $520,986 and has $185,438 in cash on hand for the Senate race.

“It’s an incredible honor to be here, part of a great group and we continue to do great things for Florida…I’m just focused on being the best senator I can be for the people I serve,” Benacquisto said.

Benacquisto put her Senate campaign on hold in February to launch a special election bid for the U.S. House District 19 seat of Republican Trey Radel, who resigned after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.

Seen as a rising star in the Florida GOP, Benacquisto was the initial favorite to replace Radel. She raised more than $1 million for the primary and snagged endorsements from Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

But Benacquisto finished a distant second to self-financing millionaire Curt Clawson, who poured $3.4 million of his own money into the race and drew endorsements from Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV and the Tea Party Express.

Outside groups, including a pro-Benacquisto super PAC, spent $2.4 million on the race. The outside spending included $890,213 for ads attacking Clawson.

A former basketball player at Purdue, Clawson introduced himself to voters during the Super Bowl with a 30-second TV ad that played up his image as “The Outsider” by showing him on a basketball court draining shots from beyond the 3-point line and challenging President Barack Obama to a shooting contest.

Republicans hold a significant registration advantage in District 19 and Clawson is the heavy favorite in a June 24 general election against Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood.

“I look forward to Mr. Clawson doing great things…I wish him the best. It means our constitutuencies, our shared friends and neighbors, are successful as well,” Benacquisto said.

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