Gaetz wins GOP primary in Florida after fending off attacks over sex trafficking investigation

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MIAMI — Rep. Matt Gaetz defeated his Republican primary opponent Tuesday in one of Florida’s most conservative congressional districts, NBC News projects, where voters declined to hold a federal sex crimes investigation against him.

Gaetz, the self-styled firebrand endorsed by former President Donald Trump who also managed Gov. Ron DeSantis’s transition team in 2019, spent $1.1 million on local TV ads to drive home his MAGA bonafides. Challenger Mark Lombardo spent at least $500,000 calling Gaetz’s character into question in three ads.

But ultimately, Trump’s endorsement — and Gaetz’s deep roots and relentless campaigning in the district — carried the day for the incumbent, who served as a state representative from the Panhandle area of Florida before winning his congressional seat in 2016.

Trump is dominant in the district, which he carried by more than 33 percentage points in 2020.

In one commercial, Lombardo insinuated, without evidence, that Gaetz was an informant who ultimately gave the FBI evidence to execute a search warrant Aug. 8 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

The ad also mentioned the sex trafficking of a minor case that has been dogging Gaetz since last year and falsely insinuated Gaetz wasn’t endorsed by Trump. Federal officials are looking into whether Gaetz and an associate used the internet to find women they could pay for sex and whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a minor he paid to travel with him, NBC News has previously reported. Gaetz has not been charged with a crime and has denied all accusations.

Another Lombardo ad played up reports of a sex-filled Bahamas trip that’s part of the federal investigation into Gaetz.

The Trump-endorsement attack annoyed Gaetz so much that he hounded a Business Insider reporter on Twitter for printing it in a story. He later tweeted the text of a new endorsement from Trump, who had verbally issued an endorsement before that.

Gaetz couldn’t be reached for comment.

A Department of Justice spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment about the sex trafficking case, but the agency typically does not indict 90 days before an election. In January, Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend testified before a grand jury investigating him, but the case has seen no major movement since then.

Gaetz’s possible opponents are Democrat Peggy Schiller or former Florida health department worker Rebekah Jones. Jones was temporarily removed from the ballot over questions about her party qualifications, but an appeals court reinstated her the day before the election.



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