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Florida Republicans see opening as Gaetz’s legal peril rises

Florida Republicans see opening as Gaetz’s legal peril
rises 1

Florida’s 1st congressional district — one of the safest Republican districts in the country — has only come open three times in the last 40 years. | Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP, File

TALLAHASSEE — Rep. Matt Gaetz insists he’s not resigning amid an ongoing federal investigation, but Republicans in his deep red Florida district are already eyeing his seat.

Several Republican elected officials and others who live in the sprawling Panhandle district said they received a robo-call over the weekend asking voters if they thought Gaetz would step down due to his legal woes. They were also asked about potential candidates — including Laura Loomer, the provocateur who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for a South Florida congressional seat last year.

“The seat is not open. Congressman Gaetz isn’t resigning,” said State Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican. “If the seat became open at some point I would strongly consider it.”

Andrade won’t be alone. For many Republicans in the area, a spot in Congress may be the pinnacle of their political career. And Florida’s 1st congressional district — one of the safest Republican districts in the country — has only come open three times in the last 40 years.

Here’s a list of the potential candidates who could run if Gaetz bows out.

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Andrade, a 31-year-old attorney first elected to the Florida House in 2018, has been friends with the embattled Republican congressman for years. Gaetz, who himself won the 1st District seat in 2016 after then-Rep. Jeff Miller opted against running for another term, even endorsed Andrade when he ran again for the Florida House seat in 2020.

Andrade was sharply critical of the recent robocall polling potential Gaetz replacements.

“I find it gross that anyone would be doing this,” Andrade said. “This sounds like they are hoping that there is a victim. How would anyone hope there’s a victim?”


Dosev, 59, a real estate developer and former military pilot who flew missions in Operation Desert Storm, has tried to win the seat twice before only to be defeated soundly by Gaetz both times. Dosev unsuccessfully challenged Andrade in 2020 for a seat in the Florida House. Dosev has already called on Gaetz to resign after news broke that federal authorities were investigating whether the lawmaker had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and helped pay for her to travel. Dosev didn’t commit to running but said it’s possible.

“First things first. Either Matt goes to jail or he resigns. At some point we would figure It out,” said Dosev. “Am I sitting here just chomping at the bit and waiting? No. I think it’s going to take a while to play out.”


Williamson, 42, is an electrical contractor from Pace, Fla., near Pensacola, who was first elected to the Florida state House in 2016 after serving on the Santa Rosa County Commission. He brushed aside questions about seeking the congressional seat when asked Thursday at the Capitol.

“I’ve got a job here the people sent me to do,” said Williamson, who added his main focus is to “bring a little money” home to his legislative district and pass some bills.


Ketchel is an Okaloosa County commissioner and former social worker who spent time working for the Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House. Ketchel also had stints working for former Rep. Jeff Miller and was legislative director for then-state Sen. Don Gaetz, who is the father of Matt Gaetz.


Hill, a former U.S. Air Force Captain and now an insurance agent, had two stints in the Florida House. Hill, a conservative Republican, sometimes clashed with GOP leaders and lost his seat during a recent Republican primary. Republicans and Democrats condemned Hill in 2019 after he joked about killing gay people at a political event.

Hill said this week that he may consider running for Congress.


White is an attorney and Pensacola Republican who served one term in the Florida House before mounting a bid for attorney general in 2018 but lost in the Republican primary. White served as the general counsel for a family car dealership. His name was mentioned in the robo-call that circulated.


A former military pilot, Merk challenged Gaetz in last year’s Republican primary but was crushed as Gaetz won nearly 81 percent of the vote. Merk, who lost a state House race to Andrade in 2018, filed a second time to run against Gaetz a day after news reports disclosed the ongoing federal investigation.

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