U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster made clear he’s not retiring and called out potential primary opponent Anthony Sabatini for a lie.
“Last week, Rep. Sabatini called me to say he was running for Congress, but that he did not intend to run against me,” Webster said in a statement. “Today he has chosen to file his paperwork for Congressional District 11 instead of another district. I never take reelection for granted. I work hard every day to serve my constituents and campaign hard every election.”
In other words, game on. Webster put out his statement to local media about a half hour before Sabatini formally posted a video announcement he will run for Congress. Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican now serving his second term in the state House, signaled a major announcement last week. Florida Politics reported his federal intentions in its Brunch newsletter on Sunday.
Webster, a Clermont Republican currently representing Florida’s 11th Congressional District, said he’s game for whatever comes.
“My record of fighting for our conservative values and putting hardworking Americans first is clear,” he said. “I’ve gotten more than $10 million in retroactive benefits, compensation or pension payments returned to veterans in my district from the VA; helped pass the Paycheck Protection Program; and have stood up to Nancy Pelosi, her liberal colleagues and the Washington establishment to oppose their D.C. mandates that trample on our freedom and liberties.”
And while the 71-year-old may seem at first a less fiery candidate to hit the trail, it’s notable he’s no stranger to a fight. He won his seat in Congress in 2010, soundly defeating Rep. Alan Grayson, who at the time boasted a national reputation as a liberal firebrand and a national network of financial support.
Before that, Webster served in the Florida Legislature for 28 years, during which time he played a key role in shifting control of the state Capitol from Democrats to Republicans. He became the Speaker of the House in 1996, the first Republican House Speaker in 122 years.
But he’s not easily cast as a figure of the Washington GOP establishment. In 2016, the Freedom Caucus endorsed Webster as an alterative choice to Kevin McCarthy for Speaker of the House after John Boehner’s retirement. The job ultimately went to Paul Ryan.
Sabatini, meanwhile, has won election twice in a conservative district and was the only member of his class this year not named to a chair or vice chair position.
Webster made clear as he seeks another term in Washington he will focus on stopping Democrats, not on the Democrat-turned-Republican running in his district.
“Republicans must focus on stopping the blatant socialist agenda and complete takeover by the Democrats or we will lose the values, Constitutional rights and freedoms that make this the greatest country in the world,” he said. “It is an honor to serve the Floridians across Lake, Sumter, Hernando, Citrus and Marion counties that live in CD-11. For the last four years I have fought in the trenches on their behalf with President [Donald] Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and fellow conservatives to empower families, value life and protect our constitutional liberties. I am committed to continuing to work hard to block the Democrats’ liberal agenda and earn the support of my constituents once again in November 2022.”
Notably, the Florida Legislature has yet to reapportion congressional districts for the 2022 election cycle, and Sabatini may end up in a different district.