U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida’s 1st Congressional District (FL-1) announced this weekend his intention to seek reelection and retain his seat in Washington. Gaetz’s 6 years in Congress have been marred by controversy and legal troubles, including an ongoing investigation conducted by the Department of Justice over allegations of sex trafficking.
There was past speculation that Gaetz would forego another election cycle, with the lawmaker claiming he was looking to “get out of Washington” during a rally in his hometown of Niceville last year. However, the Saturday grand opening of a new campaign headquarters office entrenches himself against a Democrat challenger, likely the contentious Rebekah Jones.
Embroiled in controversy herself, Jones made headlines last May after her house was searched by police under allegations of a suspected hacking into a Florida Department of Health computer system and sending unauthorized messages to members of the State Emergency Response Team. According to Jones, state officials pressured her to strategically align COVID-19 case data with Florida’s goal to reopen the state, coercing her to falsify official COVID-19 transmission data, leading to the termination of her job. However, she was actually fired for repeatedly violating the agency’s policy about communicating with the media, and has had many of her claims debunked as of late.
Despite the whirlwind nature of the Rebekah Jones saga, Gaetz’s activity may hurt him more. the popular right-wing official still remains under investigation as agents are seeking to determine if the outspoken Republican had sex with a 17-year-old. He has not been charged with any crimes and has openly denied wrongdoing thus far, but the lengthy process is yielding more questions than answers. Joel Greenberg, a former political ally of Gaetz, resigned from his job as tax collector last year when he was arrested by law enforcement agents on a fourteen-count indictment alleging he used his position to create fake IDs to sex-traffic minors. USA Today reports that Greenberg has been cooperative with authorities and may reveal information regarding Gaetz’s allegations.
A poll conducted last week reflects the present situation, showing that Jones leads Gaetz by a 53.5 percent to 45.6 percent margin. In a hypothetical standalone two-way race, the surveyed likely voters favor the challenger over the incumbent by a measure of 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent for a margin of 5.6 percent.
As of today, the election for FL-1 is occupied by six hopeful lawmakers: Gaetz, Jones, who is running as a Democrat alongside party mate Peggy Schiller. The trio is joined by Republicans Bryan Jones, Robert Jones, Jeremy Kelly, and Greg Mark.
Despite the uphill battle, Gaetz remains hopeful that he can retain his Congressional seat.
“I continue to be inspired by the people of Northwest Florida and I think I have an important role to play in fashioning the shape and flavor of the upcoming majority,” said Gaetz. “It was a year ago this month that people told terrible lies about me and I assured Northwest Floridians that those things were not true, but they were rooted in an extortion effort. Now, Stephen Alford has pled guilty to that extortion and I think it vindicates that I’ve been honest with people.”
Gaetz’s reference to Stephen Alford is a callback to the Florida developer’s August arrest after he tried to extort $25 million in exchange against Gaetz and his father for the assurance of a presidential pardon for any potential crimes from the FBI probe into sex trafficking allegations against the lawmaker. Alford claimed he had good word from the President that he would strongly consider a pardon of Gaetz investigation should he request it.
The whirlwind atmosphere surrounding the two leading candidates in Northwest Florida will likely lead to a barrage of media attacks from both sides across not just the state, but the nation as a whole, a consequence of appearing in national headlines at an alarming frequency. Nonetheless, Gaetz and Jones will appear on Primary ballots in August with a strong likelihood that the two face each other for a spot in the lauded halls of the Capitol.