Businessman Curt Clawson won the Republican nomination for U.S. House in Florida's 19th district Tuesday, a giant step toward becoming a member of Congress in the heavily conservative district.

Clawson, who loaned his campaign nearly $2.7 million of his own money through early April, defeated three other candidates in a special primary election: State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, businessman Michael Dreikorn and former state representative Paige Kreegel.

With nearly all precincts reporting, the Associated Press called the race for Clawson, who had 38 percent of the vote. Banacquisto (26 percent) and Kreegel (25 percent) were battling for second place.

Clawson will now face Democratic nominee April Freeman on June 24. Freeman, a former Republican, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Clawson will begin as the clear front-runner.

The 19th district runs from Fort Myers down to Naples. It's very conservative territory. Mitt Romney won more than 60 percent of the vote there in 2012.

The special election was triggered by the resignation earlier this year of first-term Republican Trey Radel, who stepped down months after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge. ​