TALLAHASSEE — One of the most conservative and pro-Trump members of the Florida Legislature announced on Monday that he will run for Congress, setting up a potential clash with a long-serving Republican who helped cement GOP control of state government.
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a central Florida attorney who has been in the Legislature for just three years, said he would run for the district now held by Rep. Daniel Webster.
In a minute-long campaign video kicking off his campaign, the Howey-in-the Hills resident said the “spineless and corrupt Republican establishment turned its back on President Trump and refuses to fight for our America first agenda. And it’s time we fight back.”
Sabatini’s announcement comes nearly a year before legislators will draw up new congressional maps that could include two new additional seats. Legislators could also shift the lines for central Florida districts that are now held by Democrats.
But Webster responded quickly to the news, saying in a statement that the pugnacious Sabatini told him last week he would not run against him only to now say he’s running for the seat currently held by Webster.
“He has chosen to file his paperwork for Congressional District 11 instead of another district,” Webster said in his statement, which he released about 30 minutes before Sabatini posted his video announcement. “I never take reelection for granted. I work hard every day to serve my constituents and campaign hard every election.”
The 32-year-old Sabatini has garnered attention for his confrontations with critics on social media and his largely unsuccessful bids to overturn mask ordinances enacted by local governments due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year in response to the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, Sabatini tweeted a picture of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and said “this will be a very common sight upon illegal entry at any Lake County business – FYI!” A House Democratic legislator filed a complaint but then House Speaker José Oliva said it did not violate House rules.
Webster, 71, has been in Congress for the past decade after spending 30 years in the Florida Legislature. During his time as a state lawmaker, Webster helped guide Republicans to power and became the first GOP House speaker in Florida in more than 100 years.
While he backed conservative legislation, especially in areas such as abortion, Webster was routinely praised for his calm demeanor and temperament. One of long-standing catchphrases has been “I’m a plodder, not a prophet.”
While in Congress, Webster has been a reliable Republican vote, although he did mount an unsuccessful challenge to then-House Speaker John Boehner. He recently voted against certifying the Pennsylvania and Arizona electors and twice voted against impeaching former President Donald Trump.