TA MPA, Fla. – Voters in a heavily Republican southwest Florida district are selecting a replacement for U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned in January after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
Republican Curt Clawson, a former CEO of an aluminum wheel company, is a heavy favorite to defeat Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood in Tuesday's vote.
Republicans make up about 45 percent of the registered voters in the district, with Democrats accounting for 27 percent. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama in the district 61-39 percent. Radel, a former TV news anchorman, soundly defeated his Democratic opponent that year.
Clawson, 54, is a former Purdue basketball player and was the senior captain of the 1984 team, which won the Big Ten Conference championship. He is from Bonita Springs.
Collier County last elected a Democrat to Congress in 1970 and Lee County last did so in 1968. The two biggest newspapers in the area -- the Naples Daily News and The News-Press of Fort Myers -- have endorsed Clawson.
Finance reports show Clawson's campaign has spent about $1.5 million over the last two months. The 50-year-old Freeman spent $40,431 during the same period.
The general election campaign has been far quieter than the Republican primary, when Clawson faced opposition from three others in his party. He received 38 percent of the vote.
Freeman is from Cape Coral and runs a company that does product placement for television and movies. She was a Republican for decades, became an independent and then a Democrat. She worked on Obama's 2012 re-election campaign in Lee County.
Netherwood, the Libertarian, spent 20 years in the Air Force before retiring as a captain. He also worked in the private sector as a health care administrator and chief operating officer in Virginia. Like Freeman, he was once a Republican. The 57-year-old lives on Marco Island.
Timothy Rossano, a 49-year-old from Fort Myers, is also running as a write-in candidate.
Whoever wins will serve the last six months of Radel's term and will have to run for re-election in November to keep the job.