Matt Gaetz kicks off congressional re-election campaign in Florida
FORT WALTON BEACH — Representative Matt Gaetz announced Saturday that he will be running for office this year.
Gaetz confirmed he will fight to retain his U.S. House seat as he met a crowd of supporters at the grand opening of his campaign office at 24 Hollywood Boulevard in Fort Walton Beach.
“It’s picking your fight moment,” Gaetz told the crowd. “I’m your man from Florida. I’m ready to fight in Washington and I hope you fight with me.
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There had been speculation over whether Gaetz would run for another term after he said he was considering stepping down from his seat at a political rally in his hometown of Niceville about a year ago.
His six years in power were also marked by his controversial style and legal troubles. However, Gaetz said he was not ready to give up his seat in Washington DC just yet.
“I continue to be inspired by the people of Northwest Florida and I think I have a big role to play in shaping the shape and flavor of the next majority,” Gaetz said when he was asked about his decision to run for re-election.
About 160 people have registered to attend the inauguration of his campaign office. After meeting several of his supporters individually, Gaetz addressed the crowd with a speech. He began by focusing on his support of the Northwest Florida military mission.
He touted improvements to Eglin Air Force Base and the addition of several new dormitories and classrooms to support Eglin’s F-35 mission as some of his accomplishments. He also noted improvements to the Gulf of Eglin Testing and Training Area.
“During my time in Congress, we have seen the resources of our military mission grow exponentially. Eglin’s research lab has never had so much money,” Gaetz said. “The gulf’s testing range has never seen so many improvements as in the past five years. The best is yet to come and I want to be here to be part of this enhanced mission and do what we can do.
Gaetz also vowed to support military service members and hold “woke generals” accountable, saying service members are “attacked” by “revivalism” and that he doesn’t think there should be any “gender identity training” in the military.
Gaetz: ‘I’m a different type of Republican’
During his speech, he tried to portray himself as a “different kind of Republican”, shooting former House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“My most frustrating days were during the Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell days when Republicans didn’t want to fight and fight for our border,” Gaetz said. “I think a little differently than a lot of people in Washington. I’m a different type of Republican.
Gaetz stressed his desire to “lock down” the southern border and said he wanted to see more internal enforcement of immigration laws. He is also seeking to improve his record as “one of the most pro-gun members” of the US Congress.
“The Second Amendment is necessary to protect our rights,” he said. “It’s about maintaining within citizens the ability to fight back if our government – God forbid – ever becomes tyrannical.”
Six people have signed up to oppose Gaetz this year, including Republicans Bryan Jones, Robert Jones, Jeremy Kelly and Greg Mark, as well as Democrats Rebekah Jones and Peggy Schiller. Of the six, only Rebekah Jones carries great notoriety.
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Jones rose to national prominence during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic after being fired from her job at the Florida Department of Health. During his speech, Gaetz mocked Jones, calling him “Facui from Florida”.
“I’m going to make medical tyranny an issue in this campaign,” Gaetz said. “Florida man and Florida woman won’t be locked up anymore, not for a second.”
Much of his comments focused on a vision of a “Republican majority” and a return to the “innovative spirit” he said former President Donald Trump brought to the White House. But absent from his speech was no mention of his recent legal troubles.
The New York Times published an article last year about Gaetz being investigated for possible sex trafficking and having sex with a 17-year-old girl. No charges have been filed in this case, but everything indicates that the investigation remains active.
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A former associate of Gaetz, Joel Greenburg, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor and allegedly cooperated with authorities in the case in which Gaetz was implicated. Asked about the investigation, Gaetz maintained his innocence.
“A year ago this month people told terrible lies about me and I assured Northwest Floridians that these things weren’t true, but were rooted in an effort extortion,” he said. “Now Stephen Alford has pleaded guilty to that extortion and I think that proves that I was honest with people.”
A prominent former Niceville businessman, Alford pleaded guilty in federal court in November to attempting to extort money from Gaetz’s family.
The case involved a scheme to extort $25 million from former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, Matt’s father, with the promise of a presidential pardon for his son. Despite the controversy, Gaetz said he was confident his supporters would rally behind him.
“I think it’s going to be a red wave,” he said. “I hope this red wave results in a Republican Party willing to fight for the things we campaign on, and that’s why I’m running, to make sure Republicans in Washington keep their promises.”