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Revisiting The First District Congressional Race: Matt Gaetz


It’s the home stretch of the 2016 campaign to decide who will succeed Jeff Miller in the U.S. House of Representatives. WUWF spoke with both candidates this week. First up, Republican nominee Matt Gaetz. 

This isn’t the 34-year-old Gaetz’ first rodeo, having won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 2010, he was re-elected in 2012 and 2014. He claims to have knocked on more than 8,000 doors in the First Congressional District.

“What I find in common among people is a frustration with the way government is working right now,” said Gaetz. “For them most part, government is rigged against people, because you’ve had both political parties working for the same special interests.”

Billing himself a “constitutional conservative,” Gaetz believes the country can get back on track by implementing what he calls “bold, conservative reforms,” such as abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Another reform being touted by Gaetz involves the current tax code, which he says “absolutely picks winners and losers.”

“The reason it’s so large and complex is because a bunch of lawyers and lobbyists that have had a field day with the tax code for a long period of time,” Gaetz said.

The vitriol that has been the 2016 race elsewhere has also shown up in this race.

Democratic nominee Steven Specht has distributed literature criticizing Gaetz’ driving record, listing two dozen traffic violations between 2000 and 2015. Gaetz concedes that he is “not the best driver.”

“I’ve got more speeding tickets than I should have got [sic], certainly,” Gaetz said. I have made improvements in my life to be a better driver. I find that voters are more interested in the things that our next member of Congress will do to improve their quality of life.”

Gaetz, who endorsed Donald Trump for President early in both of their campaigns, is sticking with the nominee despite the infamous Access Hollywood video from 2005. But Gaetz is concerned that Trump’s downturn in the polls, trailing Hillary Clinton from about 1-12 percentage points, might not bode well for Republican candidates down-ballot. But he says look beyond the rhetoric and the numbers.

“The polling you see doesn’t necessarily capture the turnout model you will witness,” said Gaetz. “Throughout the primaries Donald Trump consistently over-performed [in the] polling, because a lot of low-propensity voters, who are under-represented in the methodology of those polls, came out specifically to vote for Donald Trump.”

A lot of the decline appears to stem from Trump’s claims that the election is “rigged,” albeit there’s no proof from the Trump campaign. Gaetz says he has total confidence in the election system in general, and northwest Florida in particular.

“We’ve got some of the country’s best supervisors of elections,” Gaetz says. “Dave Stafford, Tappie Villane, Paul Lux, [and Bobby] Beasley in Walton County. I’m very impressed with the quality of the election that we will have in District-1.”

Matt Gaetz was a no-show at last week’s rally in downtown Pensacola, featuring VP candidate Mike Pence. He points to a previously scheduled engagement at an animal rights event.

In our next report on the First District Congressional race, we visit with Democrat Steven Specht.