STUART, Fla. — If a Treasure Coast congressman were to become the next Veterans Affairs secretary, it would lead to a highly competitive election in a swing district — and possibly with a new party-nominated candidate.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, did not say in an email Thursday whether he would accept the Cabinet post if it was offered to him or run for re-election to House District 18, only that “it is an honor to be considered to serve my fellow veterans and their families at the highest possible level."
His resignation from Congress could change the district’s Republican-leaning rating from nonpartisan political analysts such as InsideElections, Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball.
What might be the options?
Exactly what would happen with the seat representing Martin, St. Lucie and northwestern Palm Beach counties depends on whether Mast was offered and accepted the post before or after the Aug. 28 primary.
Before: No new candidates could enter the race because the state's ballot qualifying period ended May 4, according to Florida elections code. Palm Beach County doctor Mark Freeman and Fort Pierce businessman Dave Cummings would be left to duke it out.
After: Assuming he’d win, state party chairs and members of each county's Republican Executive Committee would have to meet to consider a new nominee.
VA officials have said they are preparing for the possibility that the agency won’t have a permanent secretary in place for months, according to the Associated Press.
Has this happened before?
The last time a similar situation happened on the Treasure Coast was in 2006, when former Rep. Mark Foley resigned from Congress after sending racy emails to an underage page.
Foley resigned too late for the replacement nominee, now-Sen. Joe Negron, to appear on the ballot. Republicans launched a campaign urging voters to “Punch Foley for Joe."
The National Republican Campaign Committee declined to comment on Mast’s VA candidacy.
Mast, an Army veteran who lost both legs and a finger while in Afghanistan, is the first member of Congress to open a satellite office in a VA facility.
President Donald Trump fired former VA secretary David Shulkin in March.