ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Republican leaders on Wednesday tried to distance themselves from a Florida congressional candidate who sent a fundraising letter stating that "anti-American radical Democrats" should be hung for treason.
George Buck, one of six Republican primary candidates for Florida's 13th Congressional District, referred to several Democrats, in particular to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota. Omar was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a child. She is a U.S. citizen.
In the recent letter to potential donors, Buck said "we should hang" Omar and other "traitors" for "abusing our system to destroy our country." He mentioned "tinfoil hat accusations" against President Donald Trump, but did not elaborate.
Buck's letter cited a false story that Omar is an asset of a foreign government who passed information to another foreign government. Omar called the statement "outlandishly absurd."
Buck wrote in his letter: "For all their false, tinfoil-hat accusations of President Trump, the Democrats have foreign assets among their most outspoken leadership!
“We should hang these traitors where they stand. I have no tolerance for those who are abusing our system to destroy our country."
Buck had been on the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" program, which mentors and supports candidates in races across the country. Chris Pack, the committee's communications director, said in an email Wednesday that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to remove Buck from the program with the support of NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer.
Todd Jennings, chairman of Republicans in Pinellas County, Florida linked via Facebook to a Tampa Bay Times report on the letter, and wrote: "There is no room for this kind of rhetoric in either political party. No one should ever condone a candidate's call for violence."
The 13th Congressional District is in Pinellas County, on Florida's Gulf Coast. It encompasses the city of St. Petersburg, which is the hometown of the incumbent Democratic congressman, Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor. Whoever wins the Republican primary in 2020 will face Crist again.
Buck did not respond to an email sent via his website or to a telephone message. Buck initially told the Times he didn't write the email, though it was signed by him. "I would never talk like that," he said.
In a follow-up statement, Buck appeared to stand by the campaign's email.
"Anyone who commits treason against the United States should be tried to the full extent of the law," Buck said, adding that death is a possible punishment for treason. He declined to elaborate.
Buck was the Republican nominee in 2018, but lost the general election to Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat who was a Republican when he was the state's governor.
The letter also criticized Crist, as well as Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, and Ayanna Pressley, D-Ohio.
Tony Di Matteo, the former chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party, said he did not think the rhetoric would help Republicans raise campaign funds for the race. And he said the eventual Republican winner will face a formidable opponent in Crist.
"Bashing someone that's in the state of Minnesota, I don't think that helps you in Florida," he said. "And my opinion, even with Trump at the top of the ballot I don't think anyone's going to beat Charlie Crist. He's a tremendous campaigner and raises a lot of money."
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