Tea Party candidate Curt Clawson won the Republican primary in the special election seat to replace Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who resigned after pleading guilty for cocaine possession, a victory that the Tea Party Express is claiming as "the movement's first victory of 2014."
Clawson received 46 percent of the vote, according to Naples News. “The results tonight were clear, Curt Clawson's Tea Party message of economic growth and fiscal responsibility resonated with the voters of Southwest Florida," said political strategist Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express, which was one of the first Tea Party groups to support Clawson.
"It was exactly that kind of platform that fueled Republican victories in 2010 and 2012, and we’re starting 2014 with another decisive victory here tonight. Curt’s success sends a clear message to candidates across the country: you win elections by campaigning in bold colors, not pale pastels, as President Reagan once famously said."
The race divided national Tea Party icons, though, as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., backed Clawson while former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Florida state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who received about 16 percent of the vote.
Clawson, a former CEO who "put at least $3.4 million into his campaign" according to Politico, also received the endorsement of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Tea Party Express co-founder Amy Kremer resigned last week as chairman of the group, just as the organization planned to campaign in Florida on Clawson's behalf, saying that she preferred to focus on Matt Bevin's challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"I've wanted to move in a different direction for awhile, but also wanted to make sure that any change I make was also a positive change for the conservative movement," Kremer wrote in a Facebook post.