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GOP’s Congressional Candidates Vie to Out-Right Each Other In Their Flagler Coming Out

| April 3, 2012

Four out of six: from left, Raul Espinosa, Fred Costello, Richard Clark and Craig Miller. Not pictured: Ron DeSantis and Bill Cogut. (© FlaglerLive)

They were all pro-life, pro-guns, pro-prayer, pro-business, and pro-Ronald Reagan. And they were all anti-Obamacare or anything Obama-related, anti-taxes, anti-regulations, anti-RINOs (Republican In Name Only) and anti-Washington, even though every single one of the six all-male candidates was trying to convince an audience of about 70 that he should be their man in Washington.

The candidates for the newly created 6th congressional district, which includes all of Flagler County, appeared before the Flagler County chapter of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Florida Monday evening at the Palm Coast Community Center in their first pitch for the group’s endorsement (and money). The two Democratic candidates—Flagler County’s Heather Beaven and Volusia County’s Vipin Verma—were not invited, since the organization endorses only Republicans.

“There’s a lot of new candidates, there’s a lot of candidates that are talking about getting in this race that aren’t here tonight,” said Craig Miller, who so far has the money ($100,000) and speaks like the pack’s front-runner, “but I am proud and enthusiastic with the candidates that are stepping forward, all of these folks, and willing to serve the people of district 6. What’s comforting to know is that we’re going to have a fiscal and social conservative representing congressional district 6 in the next U.S. Congress.”

It was telling that Republicans are taking it as fact that the race is essentially to be decided in their Aug. 14 primary, with whatever Democrat they may face in the Nov. 6 general election a mere formality. They may be right: the district is conservative, its voting population is 83 percent white, and its median age is around 45 in an election year when the youth factor may not be as enthusiastic as it was in 2008.

Monday’s was the candidates’ first joint, public appearance in Flagler County, providing a clearer look at the make-up of what will be one of the most competitive races in the region: Among Republicans, the race won’t be decided by the candidates’ stance on issues. Based on the way they’re presenting themselves, they have virtually identical positions, with each candidate trying to out-right the others on the conservative spectrum. Rather, the race will be decided by demographics, personality and experience.

In its earliest definition, the Republican race pits two Volusia County candidates—Craig Miller and Fred Costello—battling two St. Johns candidates—Richard Clark and Ron DeSantis. That opens the possibility that to win, a candidate must win over the Flagler vote, which is positioned to be the swing voting block: Miller and Costello will presumably win the majority of the Volusia vote (which accounts for 51 percent of the district’s population), Clark and DeSantis will win the majority of the St. Johns vote (27 percent of the district’s population), leaving the Flagler bloc (14 percent of the district’s population) as the x factor.

Redistricting created a more cohesive congressional district that includes all of St. Johns and Flagler counties, most of Volusia County, and a most of Putnam County. John Mica, the 10-term Republican from Winter Park, represented Flagler for the past decade. He’s choosing to run in another newly created district, against Republican incumbent Sandy Adams. That’s opening the Flagler district to a small stampede of candidates (more may yet jump in).

Miller spent his life in the restaurant business, going “from the dish room to the board room,” as he likes to put it (and to put it often). He was CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and served as chairman of the National Restaurant Association, and  lost to Sandy Adams in the Republican primary two years ago. He’s wealthy and speaks of his career as training ground for all the issues facing politicians: immigration, health care and job creation among them. “I’ve worked on every domestic issue on the front line,” he says. “I’m a service minded person. I’ve been in the service industry my whole life.” But he also complained of “too many people who have made a career out of politics” while vying to be a politician himself—and calling for the very government he’s seeking to run to “just stand down and get out of the way.”

Costello, a wealthy dentist—“I’m going up to Washington despite the fact that I’ll take a huge cut in pay,” he says, though a congressman makes $174,000 a year, not including very generous benefits—was mayor of Ormond Beach for eight years and has been in the Florida House of Representatives for the past four. “Everyone in this room is probably going to be mad at me for something I’ll cut,” he promises, slapping around the Obama era to his audience’s delights: “That’s Obama care, that’s the executive orders, that’s all the nonsense that’s going on up there.” He was also generous with the kind of absurd generalizations that please crowds (“there’s nobody more pro-life than I am”) and brandish his Second Amendment credentials: he and his wife, he said, both have concealed carry permits, though he specified after the meeting that he was not carrying just then: his size, he says, makes it unnecessary. Costello is the tallest of the candidates.

Ron DeSantis. (© FlaglerLive)

Ron DeSantis. (© FlaglerLive)

DeSantis is a Navy veteran who likes to make much of his military days, serving in Guantanamo Bay (not, normally, a badge of honor, considering the endurance of that prison on the fringe of American law, and Obama’s broken promise to close it), as an adviser in Iraq and as the unapologetic husband of a trophy wife–Casey Black DeSantis, the ex-TV anchor who left Jacksonville’s WJXT to host a TV golf show. “I’m a veteran, I’m a citizen, I’m not a politician,” DeSantis said before launching mostly into an attack on the Obama record, which forms the heart of his self-published book on the same subject, rather than a definition of his positions.

“He recently said,” DeSantis said of Obama, “that the wealthy, quote, take so much from the country and that they need to give back to the country in the form of higher taxes. Just think about that type of world view. He’s saying that somebody like a Henry Ford or a Steve Jobs takes from the country.” Or: “He also thinks that the only way to give back to your country is by paying taxes to the federal bureaucracy.” Of course, Obama said no such thing on either count. DeSantis was referring to a recent radio address by the president where Obama said: “We don’t envy success in this country, we aspire to it. But we also believe that anyone who does well for themselves should do their fair share in return, so that more people have the opportunity to get ahead — not just a few.”

Hyperbole and distortion is the stuff of politics, whatever the party, particularly before carnivorous audiences hungry for red meat. Some distortions stand out more than others, suggesting candidates’ looseness with facts.

Richard Clark, a resident of Punta Vedra Beach, is in his second term on the Jacksonville City Council. He told the assembly that he runs a commercial cleaning company with 150 employees. “I’m a private sector guy, I have been my entire life, so I understand what it’s like to balance a budget,” he said. And he knows, he assured his audience, how to stand up to Democrats and “the liberal media.”

“It is not easy to stand up when the world descends upon you, in 2009, when no one knew how bad it was going to get, and the liberal media and the RHINOs came in and said, raise our fees, raise taxes,” Clark said. “No, that’s fundamentally wrong.” Echoing others’ words that evening, Clark noted that he’d take a dim view of conservatives who don’t toe the line: ““I’ve stood up not just to Democrats but to those Republicans who’ve lost their way too,” he said.

There were two additional Republican candidates: Raul Espinosa of St. Augustine, and Bill Kogut of Flagler County. Both are the latest to jump into the race. Neither made a serious impression Monday evening, though Kogut ran in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 and garnered 9 percent of the vote (against Marco Rubio’s 85 percent). Espinosa is a procurement specialist: he heads an organization that ensures fairness in landing federal government contracts, and spent much of his time Monday speaking about making that process fairer. He was speaking to the wrong audience: hard-right Republicans aren’t turned on by government contracting these days.

Kogut spent much of his time speaking about his years in New Jersey, running a tavern, then a liquor store, then trying to move the store’s address and running up against the Democratic Party machine. He spoke of running for Senate and winning that 9 percent of the primary vote while spending just $1,000, seemingly underscoring his low-cost viability as a candidate. “My shoulders are big and large,” he said.

The Flagler chapter of the Republican assemblies won’t endorse the congressional candidates. The chapter limits its direct endorsements to candidates in strictly local elections. But its delegates will participate in the state organization’s endorsement process. Ten counties have chapters in the Ronald Reagan assemblies.

The Republican congressional candidates do it all over again Wednesday evening at the Flagler County Realtors Association building on State Road 100, where the Flagler County Republican Club is hosting a candidates’ evening.

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18 Responses for “GOP’s Congressional Candidates Vie to Out-Right Each Other In Their Flagler Coming Out”

  1. Nancy N. says:

    Someone needs to remind the Republican party that “rich, white, old and male” aren’t actually in the constitutional description of eligibility for Congress.

    • Bill McGuire says:

      Actually, if you look at pictures of our Nation’s founding fathers, these guys could be toddlers in comparison. The same reminder as suggested could be equally applied to our Democrat brethren. I am confident that, if younger, poor non-white females chose to run, they’re welcome to do so. However, in light of the demographics evidenced at the elections in 2011, they don’t care to even vote, let alone run for office.

      • Nancy N. says:

        Did you ever stop to think that perhaps those demographics aren’t turning out because they are disenfranchised by the fact they don’t feel the candidates represent them?

        • Anonymous says:

          Then pick and support a candidate and you won’t feel disenfranchised. People who sit on their can and complain but never exercise their rights as citizens are more despicable than the candidates that they villify.

    • Think first, act second says:

      If you don’t like “rich, white, old and male”, as you describe these candidates, do something about it, run for this office. You appear to be a female, by your name here, and it doesn’t matter your age or race and I personally will not criticize you for any of these 3 matters, so do something about it other than complain! That way I will have another choice to select from.

      • Nancy N. says:

        Believe me, with a background in political science, it’s definitely something that I have considered. But it’s not something that will be a viable option for the foreseeable future due to a family situation.

  2. NortonSmitty says:

    So these are the Best and the Brightest offerings from the “Hey You Kids, Get Off of My Lawn” Party. After 10 terms of the esteemed Mr. Mica, the bar is not set all that high to achieve better representation. At least he was smart enough to realize there is more cream to skim in Orlando, although it did take him a while.

    All of the candidates seem to have reached a level of success in life, so I guess that the race will come down to whoever reaches the Florida Republican Conservative voter. Show them that he is able to understand the real issues they care about at their level. The one who can pretend to be really damn stupid despite the success he achieved in life! Evolution, climate change, cutting spending in a depression, you all know the drill. The one that can repeat that bullshit every day with a straight face,he is the true conservative candidate and will be the Republican standard bearer! Good luck on the act.

    First, Mr. Miller seems to be well positioned. “I’m a service minded person. I’ve been in the service industry my whole life.” As a CEO of Ruth-Chris, he has years of experience serving rich people $75.00 steaks, so he will fit right in in Washington and continue to serve the rich. I hear they tip well.
    Mr. Costello, You win the second best line for “I’m going up to Washington despite the fact that I’ll take a huge cut in pay,” Funny stuff! Nobody makes any money in Congress, that’s why they spend millions to get there, to take a pay cut! The fact they all come home bigger millionaires is just a coincidence!
    Mr. DeSantis, as an ex Squid myself, I wish you the best, but a JAG prosecutor? A prosecutor of any kind is a bitter human being that lives to pass out punishment and suffering to those who they considers scum and even worse persons than themselves. Unloved and unchanged since Victor Hugo’s time. Think Nancy Grace. But punishing the lesser classes is really popular in the House these days, so you got a good shot if you can convey your cold black heart to the party base and it’s bosses. Out of curiosity, how was your conviction rate at Guantonamo? I think they did have one or maybe two tribunals so far, but it’s only been a decade. 0 for 2 I think.

    But the best laugh of the night is a tie! I find it absolutely pants-pissing hilarious that there is an “organization that ensures fairness in landing federal government contracts” and that its’ head is not rich enough to retire in the Caribbean island of his choice. Mr. Espinoza, I’m afraid this disqualifies you from being elected to feed at the Big Republican Trough in Washington. Sorry.

    And you Pierre, I can’t leave you out of the running with the knee-slapper that hard-right Republicans aren’t turned on by government contracting these days. Really? I have two words for you: Dick Cheney.
    As far as the voters not caring, well see the first paragraphs for what is filling up all the hard disk space on their Atari minds.

    I didn’t mean to leave you out Mr. Kogut. My Father owned several bars. Why don’t you take those big shoulders and go back to changing kegs with them and make an honest living. That way on your deathbed you will be able to look yourself in the mirror and smile as he did.

    There isn’t a man in Government today that will be able to do that. Democrat or Republican.

  3. NortonSmitty says:

    Oh yea, Mr.DeSantis. Henry Ford was taxed at a rate over 90% his entire successful life and he still seemed to do the Capitalist Tango OK. When he died, they put almost all of his stock and assets into the Ford Foundation to keep from giving the same percentage up in inheritance taxes.Yet somehow, capitalism was good enough to him that decades later his family still finds enough cash to keep them in Ramen noodles and Natural Ice today. Go figure.

    • Think first, act second says:

      Norton, run for the office, give us another choice. You feel you have the answers, get out on the campaign trail and speak to the citizens and see if they believe you are right, or are you one of those who only wants to complain and do nothing about it?

    • Think first, act second says:

      Where do you get a 90% figure. IRS’s top rate was 77% during the early 1900’s for a short time and then returned to 24%. Explain how you got 90%.

  4. elaygee says:

    Last dying convulsions of the party of hate. One said of their mouths say individual liberty while the other side of their mouths demand that your uterus do what they want. Revolting.

    • Angie says:

      Oh, you’re so right…killing unborn babies is such a loving and caring thing to do. Bad Republicans for wanting to save those pesky womb invaders. What’s a girl to do? It’s not like she can do anything about what gets in her uterus. Oh wait….

      Democrats are the real baby killers. Abortion is one of the most selfish decisions a woman can make.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Mrs Heather Beaven you have my vote as you are one of us.
    A woman (very important given the latest attacks), the wife of one of our brave one’s just deployed and a mom. To me those are all the credentials you need.

  6. B. Claire says:

    Will be interesting to see who the T party extremists support after they weed out all the old-fashioned,

    extinct Republicans that might even CONSIDER using the word ‘compromise’ in their platform.

  7. Bob Hamby says:

    I was asked just last week why I believed even the Republican Party had drifted to the left in the political spectrum. After much thought and reflection, I have concluded that the citizens of this country have allowed the media, press, popular culture, and progressive politicians to redefine the political center. The political center should be adherence to the US Constitution which should be neither right nor left but square in the middle.

    The Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly – Flagler represents the classical viewpoint of a Democratic Republic based on the Foundation of the US Constitution and will support those candidates who share our values. We welcome all registered Republican voters of Flagler County to join us in our efforts to restore these values.

    Bob Hamby, President
    Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly – Flagler

    • The Honest One Says says:

      Bob Hamby, very well put. If you all are disgruntled as I am about where our country is going, get on the band wagon with this group and help to put our CONSTITUTION back where it belongs.

  8. William B. Kogut says:

    We need to vet all candidates, My first piece of legislation will be forign aid, $ 868,000,000,000

    Bill Kogut

    [Bill, not sure what you mean by an $868 billion foreign aid bill, since there is no such thing as a foreign aid budget anywhere near that ballpark. Just so our readers are not misled: the State Department’s entire budget for this year was $60 billion; that includes State Department operations such as running our embassies, paying State Department staff etc. Within that, is the foreign aid budget, which is well below $20 billion, though it includes the billions still lavished on Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Israel and Pakistan.

    Here are the top 10 recipients in 2012, according to the Congressional Research Service:

    Afghanistan, $3.2 billion
    Israel, $3.1 billion
    Pakistan, $3 billion
    Iraq, $2.4 billion
    Egypt, $1.6 billion
    Kenya, $751 million
    Jordan, $676 million
    Nigeria, $661 million
    Ethiopia, $608 million
    Tanzania, $572 million

    Feel free to let us know which of those you’d cut first. Congressional candidates tend to say a lot of things on the campaign trail–as you have–that have no bearing on reality. You won’t be given the same leeway on FlaglerLive. Please check your facts before writing them here. Thanks.–FlaglerLive]

    • The Honest One Says says:

      Mr. Kogut, the foreign aid budget has to do with the United Nations of which the United States is holding hands with. They are dictating to congress and the president as to what they should be giving to these countries. Get the United Nations out of this country and let our government handle the foreign affairs as we see fit..Take all this money that we are paying to these countries, whom by the way hate us, and pay off the huge debt we have..

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