FL GOP Candidate Skips Out On Official Business To Hang With Palin

Former Alaska gov. Sarah Palin chats with guest at Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto's private fundraiser in East Naples with in East Naples on Thursday April 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Naples Daily News, Scott McIntyre)
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Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto (R) secured the coveted endorsement from Sarah Palin in the primary for Florida 19th District special election, but now she’s under fire for missing out on candidate forums and even a vote at the statehouse to hang out at a fundraiser with the former governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate.

On Thursday, Palin was in Florida campaigning for Benacquisto, who is running for for former Rep. Trey Radel’s (R-FL) congressional seat, and the visit didn’t go so well for the Florida congressional hopeful. For one, there’s the matter of a mysterious vote of “yes” by Benacquisto that day. During a vote on the state budget Benacquisto was recorded as voting “yes.” The problem was, according to the Associated Press, the Senate majority leader had already left for a barbecue event with Palin. The Senate Rules Committee chairman, John Thrasher (R-FL), said Benacquisto’s vote button was supposed to be locked prior to her leaving for the barbecue. Benacquisto’s vote was changed and Thrasher said it was not clear who pushed the button.

Palin and Benacquisto serve barbecue at a private fundraiser on Thursday.

Local press also called out Benacquisto for prioritizing campaigning with Palin over other campaign events. A Wednesday story for the Naples Daily News noted that Benacquisto had said weeks ago that she would not be able to attend a candidate forum on Sanibel Island but had found time to campaign with Palin. The headline read “Lizbeth Benacquisto makes time for Sarah Palin fundraiser, not Sanibel voter event.” A report by WBBH-TV, the NBC News affiliate in Florida noted Benacquisto wouldn’t be at the Capitol on state business on Thursday and she wouldn’t be at the Sanibel event but she had found time “to sling barbecue with Sarah Palin at a $500-per-person fundraiser at a private residence in Naples for Benacquisto’s congressional election campaign.” That decision, WBBH-TV said, had the other candidates in the primary calling her out for prioritizing Palin over other events.

Despite still being popular with the tea party, Palin’s endorsement hasn’t rallied that faction of the GOP entirely behind Benacquisto. Tea party supporters for businessman Curt Clawson, a candidate in the race who has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express, wrote a letter to Palin urging her to switch her endorsement to Clawson.

“We recognize that around the country you prefer to endorse female candidates as part of your ‘mama grizzly efforts,'” The letter read, according to Florida Fox News affiliate WFTX-TV. The letter continued that “in this case, you have endorsed the moderate establishment candidate who is opposed to by grassroots conservatives across southwest Florida.”

Palin hasn’t been shaken though.

“Lizbeth Benacquisto is a proven conservative with an unwavering commitment to the principles of our founders and to the sanctity of life,” Palin said Thursday according to Sunshine State News.

The former Alaska governor also took a swipe at Clawson.

“I admire and respect the good folks supporting other candidates in this race, but we’ll have to disagree on this one,” Palin said. “Lizbeth is running against a wealthy, self-funded candidate with lots of splashy campaign ads claiming to be conservative.”

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