LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz visited the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday to throw his support behind the candidate facing off against Rep. Ross Spano in this month’s GOP congressional primary.
Gaetz, who represents part of Florida’s panhandle, held an event Wednesday morning at Catapult in Lakeland to endorse Scott Franklin. Franklin, who currently serves as a city commissioner in Lakeland, is looking to get on the ballot for voters in November and ultimately become the U.S. representative for Florida’s 15th District.
“I suspect the 2020 election will be one of the most consequential in our lives. And in that election we need patriots that are willing to fight,” Gaetz said.
In order to get his name on the ballot for the general election in November, Franklin will first have to defeat Republican Rep. Ross Spano in Florida’s primary election.
Spano was elected to serve the 15th District of Florida in the 2018 midterm elections. Gaetz on Wednesday urged central Florida conservatives to not re-elect him.
“It’s not usual for a sitting member of Congress to endorse a challenger against an incumbent but the principle obligation of leadership is to tell the truth. The truth is that if Ross Spano is the Republican nominee for this district, the Republican party will be weaker and the president’s campaign will be weaker,” Gaetz said. “Ross Spano is not a credible messenger for the Trump agenda.”
But in a statement to WFLA, Spano said he has stood by President Donald Trump.
“I’m not surprised by Rep. Gaetz’s endorsement,” his statement said. “He endorsed my primary opponent last time. I have stood with President Trump during my first term.”
In his statement, Spano added that he’s “pleased to have the support” of Sen. Marco Rubio, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer. Spano noted that several other Florida Republicans who serve in Congress have also supported him, including Rep. Vern Buchanan, Rep. Greg Steube and Rep. Gus Bilirakis from the Tampa Bay area.
Rep. Bilirakis’ office released a statement saying, “As a member of the Tampa Bay Delegation, Congressman Bilirakis has worked closely with Congressman Spano on a variety of issues and has found him to be an effective colleague.”
Spano and Franklin will face off on election night – Aug. 18. Whoever wins the primary will go on to face the winner of the Democratic primary for District 15. There are three Democrats fighting to get on the ballot: Alan Cohn, Adam Hattersley and Jesse Philippe.
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