U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster will challenge for District 11 congressional seat

Republican Rep. Daniel Webster's Orlando-area district was redrawn to favor Democrats.
Republican Rep. Daniel Webster's Orlando-area district was redrawn to favor Democrats.
Published February 22 2016
Updated February 23 2016

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, whose Orlando-area district was recently redrawn to favor Democrats, has announced he will run in the heavily Republican 11th District, where U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent is not seeking re-election.

Webster, a Winter Garden Republican who previously was speaker of the Florida House, is best known for twice seeking the same job in Washington.

He ran unsuccessfully against former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner in January 2015 and ran again after Boehner's departure from the House in October.

"For the past five years, I have fought to change the power-based, staff-driven congressional process into one based upon principles," Webster said in a written announcement.

District 11, which includes all of Hernando County, has been redrawn to exclude Ocala, the home of the only other Republican candidate, Justin Grabelle.

Grabelle announced his candidacy last year immediately after Nugent, a Spring Hill Republican, said he did not plan to seek re-election. Nugent quickly threw his support behind Grabelle, his longtime chief of staff.

The race also includes a Democrat, Dave Koller of Ocala.

Without mentioning Webster by name, Grabelle responded to his announcement Monday by saying "career politicians seem to be more concerned with Washington's inner workings than getting results for the people they represent."

Though Grabelle will not live in the new district, "he's been a presence here for a number of years," said David Russell, a former state representative and Hernando County commissioner who supports Grabelle.

Though Webster lives outside the district, he said in his news release that he has a claim to represent it because it includes parts of Lake and Marion counties he has long represented.

State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, previously had suggested that Webster would be a "carpetbagger" if he ran in the 11th District as an outsider.

Pasco County Tax Collector and former state lawmaker Mike Fasano, a longtime friend of Webster's, rejected that description.

"It's not the fault of the congressman if his district was redrawn," Fasano said. "There's no way you can be a carpetbagger if you represent part of the district and the other part of your district was just redrawn."

Fasano has said previously that Webster would be a strong candidate because of the bonds formed with establishment party members during his long tenure in Tallahassee, combined with his emergence as a hard-right favorite due to his challenge of Boehner.

Supporters for Webster's October run for speaker, his announcement said, included "the conservative Freedom Caucus and political commentator Glenn Beck."

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