With the special general election just two months out, the candidates vying for Florida's 19th District seat in the U.S. House plan to focus on the issues and on getting out their message in the weeks ahead.
Four will face off in the special election on June 24 to fill the seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel. He resigned in January following an arrest for possession of cocaine in Washington, D.C.
Republican Curt Clawson and Democrat April Freeman are up against Ray Netherwood, of the Libertarian Party of Florida as well as non-partisan write-in candidate Timothy J. Rossano for the seat. The victor will serve out the remainder of Radel's two-year term, which runs through the year's end.
"Southwest Florida deserves a fresh start, and we need representation that will truly represent the people," Freeman said, noting that she had planned to run for Radel's seat when his term was up, prior to his arrest. "I know that I can represent the people of this district and put their interests first."
Clawson explained that he is an "outsider" and that Congress needs more outsiders like him.
"I am running because I think that our nation needs a new direction," he said.
For Netherwood, his reason for running ties into his belief that the system no longer works.
"Washington is broken, and I have a track record for fixing broken things," he said. "I think the country's in trouble - it seems like there is no progress being made."
Rossano, who declared his candidacy in the last election for the District 19 seat but backed out in support of another candidate, echoed a similar sentiment to Netherwood.
"I've seen enough of the Democrats and Republicans controlling this country," he said. "They've done nothing but bring us to the financial ruin we're in. I have no more faith in the two-party system."
With the election on the horizon, the candidates are already revving up their campaigning.
"I'm out every day meeting people," Rossano said, noting that he has signs up, with more coming.
"I'm going grassroots - very small budget," he said. "Under the $5,000 threshold."
Netherwood is also getting his political signage and mailers in order.
Clawson is looking inward before looking ahead.
"Before we go on the court, before the next game, we will work on our own locker room," he said, adding that his campaign is now working hard to develop unity within the Republican Party.
Clawson beat out three opponents Tuesday to win the Republican nomination.
"If we get great unity in our party," he said. "We can win the next round."
According to Freeman, more than 160,000 registered Republican voters did not vote for the winner of the Republican primary election, held Tuesday, or they did not vote at all. She explained that her camp will reach out to that group and independent voters or those with no party affiliation, as well as others.
"We're going to reach out to voters and get our message out there," she said.
In terms of what they stand for and what they want to say, each candidate has their own voice.
Clawson said his message will be the same as it was in the primary election.
"Pushing the Clawson 5 percent Growth Plan - we think good paying jobs help everybody, - and (former U.S. Rep. Connie) Mack's Penny Plan on deficit reduction," he said.
Netherwood's focus is the Libertarian message - "the party of liberty, not liberalism."
"The train wreck and swamp that we call Washington, D.C., and the $17-plus trillion debt," he said. "That wasn't created by Libertarians. It was created by both Republicans and Democrats."
A Constitutionally-focused and downsized government, one that involves financial responsibility and restraint while getting out of citizens' lives, is what Netherwood sees as a fix to a broken system.
"That's going to be my message - doing something different," he said.
Netherwood noted that Republicans and Democrats talk about reaching across the aisle.
"Libertarians don't have to do that, we straddle the aisle. We're sort of down the middle," he said.
One of the prongs of Rossano's campaign is his "Will of the People" initiative. He explained that in over 50 years, he has never seen Congress vote on a bill based on the best interests of the people.
"They vote in the best interests of whoever supplies them money in their campaigns," Rossano said.
Under his initiative, summaries of bills would be posted online for the public to weigh in on.
"I'll go with the majority - the will of the people," Rossano said.
For Freeman, one focus is working and middle-class families.
"We need to bring jobs to Southwest Florida, let them know Southwest Florida is open for business," she said, adding women's issues are also big for her. "Women deserve equal pay for equal work."
Her message also covers education and the environment, such as supporting solar power, not drilling.
"We're a natural paradise. We need to protect this area," Freeman said.
Leading up to June, a zeroing in on the issues is what many candidates want to see.
"The people do deserve serious answers to questions they have," she said, citing one opponent's plan that includes Medicare and Social Security cuts. "Let the people of this district hear our answers."
Netherwood and Rossano voiced support for more open forums and debates.
If elected to the seat, Clawson will look to his message for direction.
"I'm going to push a growth plan, a 5 percent growth plan - we cannot cut our way out of the problems we have," he said.
The Mack Penny Plan is also a priority, as is defending the Constitution in the U.S. House.
Rossano reiterated that the Congressional interactive webpage would top his list. He would also like to work toward impeaching President Barack Obama or repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act.
"It's done nothing but create problems. We have a whole state of doctors refusing to participate," Rossano said. "It's not the government's responsibility to tell people what they need."
Top priorities for Netherwood include supporting a proposal that has been floated on term limits and abolishing the Department of Education. He also would like to see land control addressed.
"I want to work on trying to come up with a framework to get federal lands back under state control," Netherwood said.
For Freeman, tax credits for small and women-owned businesses are one place to start.
"My main priority would be to bring jobs to Southwest Florida," she said, adding that the region cannot rely solely on seasonal revenue. "Women are effective business owners. I'm a small business owner."
Early voting for the special general election runs June 14 to 21.
Election day is June 24.
In the primary election, which was only open to voters registered as Republican, 70,240 ballots were cast in Lee County and Collier County - a turnout of 33 percent and 38 percent, respectively.
Clawson beat out Lizbeth Benacquisto, Paige Kreegel and Michael John Dreikorn to move forward.