Spectrum Bay News 9 Political Reporter Mitch Perry is looking for deeper meaning in politics and government so our local stories have more of a connection in your daily life.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Five Republicans who intend to run for the nomination to face Democrat Charlie Crist next year in Florida's 13th Congressional race gathered in Clearwater on Monday night, but the best known candidate was not among them.

That would be George Buck, who made national news last week after it was reported that he called for Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and other Democrats to be hanged for treason in a fundraising email.

The report by the Tampa Bay Times led to national and Pinellas based Republicans to distance themselves from Buck, a U.S. Army Veteran who ran and lost to Crist in the race for the congressional seat in 2018.

Among those criticizing Buck for the comments reported in the fundraising email was Pinellas County Republican chair Todd Jennings. He said "there is no room for this kind of inflammatory rhetoric in either political party. No one should ever condone a candidate's call for violence."

That criticism Buck cited as his reason not to attend Monday night’s monthly Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee meeting, where all of the announced congressional candidates were slated to appear before the membership group.

“He never once called me about the treason question to get clarification and denounced me in front of the national press,” Buck wrote on his Facebook page last Friday. “He clearly is trying to pick the nominee and I do not trust any process or event hosted by him. He needs to be replaced as Pinellas GOP County Chairman for meddling in a Republican primary.”

That sentiment was shared by several backers of Buck who held up signs showing their support for Buck in front of the main entrance to the Feather Sound Country Club, which was the site of Monday night’s meeting.  

“I’m gravely disappointed,” Doreen Brown from St. Petersburg said about Jennings' criticism. “Not one phone call or text or email (to Buck). No, he went straight to Facebook to say, ‘this is terrible.’ That should not be the behavior of our chairman.”

“Todd is a Navy veteran. And for him to stick another military veteran in the back like this is disgraceful,” added Buck supporter Dawn Simmons. “It shows no sign of leadership.”

Jennings denied that he is favoring any candidate in the six-person primary field, and told Spectrum Bay News 9 after the meeting that he has received plenty of support for his criticism of Buck’s statement.

The other five candidates in the race did address the nearly 200 people in attendance on Monday night, where they emphasized that they were going to hold their rhetorical fire against each other, and reserve any of that towards their primary target – Charlie Crist.

“My target is Charlie, not the other candidates,” said Sharon Barry Newby.

“We have someone in office who is only about himself, and not about serving the constituents of our community, and that’s why I’m running,” Amanda Makki said.

“I will not be throwing shade at anyone, that’s not why I’m here today,” Anna Paulina Luna added.

After Newby spoke, one man in the audience realized that Buck wasn’t in the room and wasn’t happy about it, shouting alound why he wasn’t there.

“He didn’t show up because he’s an embarrassment,” responded one party member.

The man who asked about Buck – Jonathan Riches – told Spectrum Bay News 9 on Tuesday that the reason he spoke up was because, “I support George Buck," and was simply asking why he was not at the event, mistakenly beliving that Jennings had instructed Buck not to appear.

Spectrum Bay News 9 caught up wtih Crist earlier on Monday to ask about the Buck controversy.

"It's embarrassing," Crist said. "I never thought I'd see something like that. And I'll leave it at that."