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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

by Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — In the fallout from his cocaine bust last year, Fort Myers, Florida, Congressman Trey Radel (R-FL) submitted his resignation Monday because, he said, he couldn’t escape the “serious consequences” of his actions.

“While I have dealt with those issues on a personal level,” Radel wrote to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, “it is my belief that professionally I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States Representative to the place I love and call home, Southwest Florida.”

Radel, who will officially leave office at 6:30 p.m., announced he was quitting just as a House inquiry into his cocaine use started to get under way. Governor Rick Scott will call a special election to fill the vacancy.

In a sign of a looming and acrimonious intra-Republican Party squabble, candidates and potential candidates had already started jockeying to run for the seat. And they and their surrogates are already attacking each other.

Since last week, a Republican political committee and the state GOP have been feuding over rival ads involving announced candidate Paige Kreegel and Florida Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, who is expected to run for District 19.

Benacquisto is spending about $500,000 in her state Senate campaign money on ads.

That prompted a political committee called Values are Vital, which backs Kreegel, to counter with its own ads attacking her as “bait-and-switch Benacquisto.” The committee accuses her of trying to boost her name ID and get around a federal ban on spending corporate donations, which fill her Senate account, for congressional campaigns.

Last week, the Republican Party of Florida weighed in on Benacquisto’s behalf and told local TV stations to pull the “patently false” ads from Values are Vital, which is a so-called “SuperPAC.”

The committee, in turn, defended the spots and attacked the state party for trying “to chill the First Amendment Rights of Values Are Vital … regarding the motivations underlying Senator Benacquisto’s recent advertising campaign.”

Former Congressman Connie Mack has talked to others about potentially running for the Fort Myers-based seat he used to have and former candidate Chauncey Goss hasn’t ruled out a bid, either. Both Goss and Kreegel, a former state representative, ran against Radel and lost in 2012.

The congressional seat is solidly Republican. Mitt Romney won it with 61 percent of the vote in 2012, when the GOP presidential candidate lost statewide to President Obama by about a point.

Radel’s resignation comes months after he was arrested for buying more than 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover cop in Washington in October.

Nicknamed the “cocaine congressman” thereafter, the 37-year-old political newcomer had planned to stay in his seat and rebuffed calls for him to step down from Scott, the state and local GOP and local newspapers.

By quitting, Radel effectively ends the House investigation into his drug use.

A group that filed a congressional complaint against Radel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, issued a press statement noting the “suspicious timing” of his resignation. It called on Congress to investigate more.

“Who introduced the first-term lawmaker — who lived in Washington less than 10 months — to his drug dealer?” the group’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said in a written statement.

“Further, we know Rep. Radel shared his cocaine with others,” she said. “Who, exactly? Given his short tenure in D.C., Rep. Radel most likely spent his free time with other members of Congress and Hill staff.”

But Republicans in Washington and Florida, are focused for now on replacing Radel, not investigating.

From the district to Tallahassee to Washington, Benacquisto’s potential candidacy has garnered a significant amount of buzz compared to Kreegel and the other potential candidates.

She plans to fly this week to Washington to meet this week with Republican strategists and financiers.

Relatively well-known in the area and telegenic, Benacquisto represents much of the congressional district already and is the only well-known potential female candidate in a party that is struggling to attract more women to its male-dominated ranks.

Kreegel, a physician, said he wanted to represent the district to tackle “Obamacare, to Washington’s out-of-control spending, to the breaches of national security.”

Both Kreegel and Benacquisto said Radel made the right call.

“I will consider the best way I can be of service to Florida and our region,” Benacquisto said. “This includes talking to my neighbors, my friends, and my family to seek their guidance moving forward.”

AFP Photo/Drew Angerer

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]