EXCLUSIVE: A businessman and Marine combat veteran with extensive aviation experience has announced a self-funded primary challenge to Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz to represent the Sunshine State’s 1st Congressional District.
Speaking to Fox News Digital in an interview on Tuesday, Mark Lombardo, who flew CH-46 helicopters in Vietnam and is a former FedEx executive and pilot, described his vision for the district and his mission to defeat Gaetz, who he said has made some “terrible choices,” and to “serve the good, hardworking people of Northwest Florida.”
“Matt Gaetz is completely ineffective as a congressman,” Lombardo said, pointing to Gaetz’s record. “Think about this: He has missed 200 votes in five and a half years, collecting a six-figure salary. Think about that. If you missed 200 days of work collecting a high, six-figure salary, I know exactly what your boss would do to you.”
Discussing infrastructure issues and the loss of jobs for residents in the 1st District, Lombardo said Gaetz is “no place to be found.”
“I’m certainly willing to put myself out there and put my money where my mouth is to represent… and serve the people of Northwest Florida,” he said, adding that his military experience has taught him to put other people’s interests ahead of his own.
Lombardo has pledged to spend up to $1 million to defeat Gaetz in a GOP primary race in late August.
His announcement comes after a report published last March by the New York Times alleging Gaetz traveled across state lines with a 17-year-old girl for the purpose of sex. Gaetz has maintained that the report is not true, telling Fox News’ Tucker Carlson earlier this year, “I’m innocent. I’ve maintained my innocence. I’ve been entirely consistent on this fact in each and every day the lies about me unravel and are debunked.”
In his first campaign ad released Wednesday, Lombardo said he once worked “paycheck to paycheck living in a Pensacola trailer” and that he never thought he would make a run for Congress.
“We all know Washington is broken, an absolute mess and utter disgrace,” he said in the ad. “Part of the reason it’s so dysfunctional is because it’s filled with professional politicians – people who put themselves and their interests ahead of your interests.”
“We need conservatives that put America first, that put you first,” he added.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to show Rep. Gaetz has been in office five and a half years, not nine and a half years as initially reported.