When he walked out of a Naples, Fla. drug rehabilitation clinic last week and faced reporters for the first time since he pleaded guilty in November to cocaine possession, Republican Rep. Trey Radel of Florida sent out clear signals he wanted to remain in office for at least the remainder of his term.
But with Republican leaders in the 19th Congressional District and throughout the state unanimous in demanding his resignation, the embattled freshman lawmaker appears to have stormy political weather ahead of him.
Newsmax learned that at least two Republicans are poised to declare for the seat as either opponents to Radel or candidates in a special election should the congressman resign. Lizbeth Benacquisto, GOP leader of the state Senate, is reportedly telling friends she wants to run for Congress.
In addition, sources in the 19th district told Newsmax that Chauncey Goss, who placed second to Radel in the crowded 2014 primary, will definitely be a candidate regardless of what happens to the congressman. The son of former eight-term House member and former CIA Director Porter Goss, Chauncey is an ex-congressional staffer who ran last time with the strong endorsement of Republican vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
Another strong GOP prospect for the seat is Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott.
"The one thing you can be certain of is it will be a crowded primary for Congress here," Gary Lee, 19th district GOP chairman, told Newsmax.
Radel now faces an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee, but state and local Republican leaders are making it clear they want him out now. Within 48 hours of Radel's guilty plea and self-commitment to a rehabilitation center November 21, GOP committees in Lee and Collier Counties — the two largest counties in the 19th — unanimously passed resolutions calling on him to resign.
In separate statements, both Lee County GOP Chairman Terry Miller and Collier County Chairman Mike Lyster said Radel "would not enjoy our support" if he decides to remain in office and run again in 2014.
This view was seconded by Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott during a recent visit to the 19th district, which stretches from Fort Myers to Naples. State GOP Chairman Lenny Curry has also weighed in and issued a statement calling on the embattled Radel to resign.
But Radel himself seems not to be listening to his party and sounded like someone who would stay where he was and possibly run again.
With his wife a few feet away, he told reporters following his rehabilitation stint, "I'm excited to begin this process of rebuilding your trust and doing what you elected me to do."
The congressman raised eyebrows when he spoke of his battle with alcoholism, but never answered questions about his problem with cocaine.
"Alcohol does not work for me," Radel said. "It was selfishly fun, but it became a problem when it led to poor choices and, more than that, missed opportunities."
"Based on his press conference, Rep. Radel is still in denial," said Lee. "He would not answer any questions about his history as a cocaine user. The first pillar of his life should be his family and the second should be the constituency he was elected to represent here in the 19th district. Right now, we have no representation."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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