Voters will go to the polls in November not only to make their choice for president, but also for the man who will represent the western Panhandle in Congress.
Matt Gaetz and Steven Specht took different paths to their parties’ nominations. Specht had no primary opposition, and advanced to the general election. For Gaetz, it was a fight with seven other Republicans in which he collected 36 percent of the vote in the primary.
“If you compare the outcome of the recent August 30 primary for the Republican Party, it was a bit tighter than the primary when Jeff Miller had entered office,” said Brian Williams, a political scientist at the University of West Florida.
He says Gaetz likely benefitted from the competition, by having to refine his stances of certain issues. Another advantage were the campaign signs referring to Gaetz as “Conservative Gaetz.” Plus, being the son of former state Senate President Don Gaetz probably doesn’t hurt, either.
Gaetz, says Williams, can also use his time in the Florida House of Representatives as his ideas about how to serve in Washington, D.C.
“It gives the candidates a chance to establish a policy stance track record,” Williams said. “In the case of Matt Gaetz, he was able to numerous stances he had taken. For example, opposition to taxes, illegal immigration, and for gun rights.”
While Matt Gaetz has the advantage of holding public office, political newcomer Steven Specht might be able to offset part of that with his service in the Air Force, which may blunt some disparagement from conservatives. Williams says that wouldn’t be surprising, given the five military bases and large veteran population in U.S. House District-1.
“That gets to the heart of Specht’s campaign strategy, which is to take a more moderate position,” said Williams. “He’s even stated in his campaign that he aims to build consensus, and was arguing that there’s too much polarization in Congress today.”
Another question to be answered is how Specht will fare in seeking the now-open Congressional seat, that’s been held by Republicans since 1994 by super-majority votes of 60 percent or more.
“One has to wonder that, ‘Does he really think that he has a real shot at winning?’” said Williams. “If you listen to some of the points he’s making, he emphasizes the need to reach out to independents and more moderate Republicans.”
Going in, Steven Specht likely knew it would be an uphill battle to win the District-1 election. The online publication Sunshine State News rates the contested House races statewide. The outlook for District-1 is “Secure Republican.”