Everything you need to know about today’s Florida special primary election

Voters head to the polls today in Florida's 19th District to choose nominees for the special election to replace former congressman Trey Radel (R).


State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Naples city councilman Gary Price, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin pray before the barbecue dinner at Benacquisto's private fundraiser in East Naples on Thursday April 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Naples Daily News, Scott McIntyre)

Polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern time. We'll have results for you over on Post Politics. In the meantime, below is everything you need to know about today's primary.

So why is there is special election? 

Two words: Trey Radel. He resigned in late January, months after pleading to a misdemeanor drug charge. Radel, a first-term congressman who was arrested for cocaine possession, said last year that struggles with alcoholism led him to make an "extremely irresponsible choice" involving cocaine. Gov. Rick Scott (R) set the primary for today and the special election for June 24.

What does the 19th District look like?

It's runs from Fort Myers down to Naples. And it's very conservative. Mitt Romney won more than 60 percent of the vote there in 2012. The winner of today's GOP primary will have a huge leg up on the Democratic nominee.

Who's running?

The four Republicans in the race are businessman Curt Clawson, state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, businessman Michael Dreikorn and former state representative Paige Kreegel. The only Democrat running is April Freeman, who was a Republican for 30 years.

What does polling say?

It's hard to poll a special election, and limited data have been released publicly. Recent surveys have shown Clawson leading by between six and 19 points over Benacquisto.

What are the biggest questions to consider headed into the primary?

Do voters want a powerful state legislator viewed as a rising star (Benacquisto) or someone from the private sector pitching himself as the outsider in the race (Clawson)? Will a Republican woman win the day against a primary field full of men? How low will turnout be? Will all the personal money Clawson put into his campaign pay off? (More on that below.)

What has the ad war looked like?

In a word: pricey. Total spending -- candidates and outside groups -- has neared $2.7 million since the end of February. Benacquisto and Clawson have spent more than half a million dollars on television advertising so far. Clawson’s campaign has dumped about $340,000 into TV ads in the Fort Myers-Naples market, while Benacquisto has spent $210,000, according to records filed with television stations in the district. More than $3 million of Clawson's campaign cash has come from his own pockets, according to the Sunlight Foundation, allowing him to outspend the competition. But outside groups have kept Benacquisto and Kreegel in the game, spending more than $2 million on their behalf.

Who is watching this race?

Odds are Sarah Palin and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will checking returns. Palin endorsed Benacquisto, and Paul endorsed Clawson.

Got it all. But what does the race "mean" for the bigger picture?

In terms of what it will say about the midterms, well, almost nothing, really. This is not a swing district, nor is it one where well-known national groups poured in heaps of cash. The main players in this race have been the candidates and their allies; the latter have used super PACs to wage ad hoc efforts on behalf of the candidates. Perhaps the biggest question that may apply to the larger landscape is whether the outsider mantle that Clawson has tried to claim proves to be a winning formula. It's not a great election cycle to be an incumbent or other officeholder, given voters' frustration with elected officials and lack of faith in government. A Clawson win could be seen as another sign that voters are hungry for candidates from outside government.

Must-reads:

"Clemency push is on for drug offenders" -- Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

"Biden in Ukraine to Show Support as Tensions Rise" -- Nedra Pickler, AP

Reid Wilson contributed to this post

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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Chris Cillizza · April 21, 2014

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