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The Trump country of Florida is on Gaetz’s side

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Representative Matt Gaetz addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference. | Joe Raedle / Getty Images

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. Most well-known Republicans do their best to avoid Matt Gaetz, but not the conservatives in his ruby ​​red light district of Floridas Panhandle.

While the beleaguered 38-year-old MP denies allegations of sex trafficking at the center of an ongoing federal investigation, Republicans in the heart of Trump country are deeply suspicious of the accusations and still support him.

I think it’s nothing more than fake news, said Larry Hetu, a Gulf Breeze activist who is part of a group trying to get a local bridge renamed in honor of former President Donald. Trump. I don’t believe anything from the mainstream media. Representative Gaetz denied everything.

The allegations against Gaetz violating federal sex trafficking laws and having a relationship with a 17-year-old, among others, would be enough to scare most supporters away. But Gaetz comes from an influential Florida political family and is a staunch ally of Trump, who in this conservative stronghold counts for a lot. Gaetz held that seat in Congress for four years, and since then he has been a steadfast supporter of Trump, which has helped fuel doubt over the torrent of negative media attention now spilling over Gaetz.

While Gaetz promises not to resign, support from his district indicates the beleaguered congressman could overcome the scandal.

Other Republicans who have backed Gaetz aren’t completely dismissive, but they also claim that details that have appeared so far in news articles, including the New York Times, which first broke the news of investigation into sex trafficking, were vague.

John Roberts, the chairman of the Escambia County Republican Party, has said he will never tolerate anyone having sex with an underage person. But he added that so far I haven’t heard anything concrete. Roberts lamented what he called sinister speculation against Gaetz and added that “I don’t trust the anonymous sources of The New York Times.

The Gaetzs District, formerly owned by Joe Scarborough, stretches over 100 miles from the Alabama border to resort towns just west of Panama City that are currently inundated with visitors during the holidays of spring. The last time a Democrat was elected to Gaetz’s seat was in 1992. Trump won the district by more than 30 points in 2020 despite his final loss to Joe Biden and months after the election, the flags and Trump’s signs still dot the landscape.

Gaetz has garnered attention nationally and nationally for being a steadfast supporter of Trump, appearing repeatedly on Fox News to disparage the liberals and the media. But revelations that he was under investigation for possibly having sex with a 17-year-old girl and paying for transportation across state borders have led to further scrutiny of his. behavior during his tenure in Congress.

Even before the DOJ investigation, Gaetz’s behavior towards women had been whispered on Capitol Hill. Gaetz was known to brag about his sexual conquests and showed some of his colleagues photos and videos of naked women, two sources confirmed to POLITICO. These interactions which were first reported by CNN sometimes took place just outside the House chamber, where lawmakers voted.

One person who saw one of the videos said it featured a naked woman hula-hooping. The other source, who had second-hand knowledge of nude photos and videos, added that it was widely known on Capitol Hill that Gaetz once dated a college-aged intern for another Congressional office. . The Daily Beast reported that the woman was past the age of consent.

The allegations have prompted many prominent Republicans, including those in Florida, to keep their low profile. The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Gaetz ally who relied on the congressman to fill his administration after the 2018 election, said the governor would not comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Gaetz, for his part, did not wait for the investigation to be completed and continues to firmly deny any wrongdoing. In an editorial for The Washington Examiner, the combative Gaetz said I was absolutely not resigning. Gaetz began the article by stating that first let me remind everyone that I am a representative in Congress, not a monk, and certainly not a criminal.

Its defenders, at least locally, continue to come forward. Nathan Nelson, who previously worked as director of military affairs for Gaetz, held a press conference in Gaetz district on Monday where he called the allegations baseless. Nelson said he was visited last week by FBI agents who wanted to know if he quit working for Gaetz last year because he had concerns about his behavior. Nelson said officers received the tip from the media, which he said caused him to doubt the ongoing investigation.

Nelsons’ press conference, held in the driveway of a residential neighborhood in southern Walton County, reflected intense media interest in the allegations against the congressman, a level of attention which helped fuel doubts in his neighborhood.

Former State Representative Mike Hill, a Republican from Pensacola who once clashed with members of his own party after joking about gays, said locals told him they didn’t believe just not to the allegations, especially since some of the key stories had been reported. first by the New York Times.

They believe it is an attempt to eliminate a Tory, said Hill, who adds that he has told people to wait and see before making a final decision.

Pensacola Republican Greg Merk, a former Navy pilot crushed in the 2020 Republican primary by Gaetz, is also waiting to see the results of the investigation. Merk denounces Gaetz as someone whose stance on everything from marijuana to LGBTQ issues is out of step with the district he represents, but also said I would not convict a guy, adding that the allegations were hardly surprising.

Merk, who has already applied for the seat next year, argued that the conservative media is staying away from the story because they have helped build Gaetz over the past four years.

Just because it’s something mainstream media, I don’t reject it, Merk said.

Olivia Beavers and Melanie Zanona contributed to this story.

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