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(News-Press.com) - Sarah Palin's popping by a picnic this week to support Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto in her bid for U.S. Congress.

On Tuesday, Benacquisto's campaign announced that Sarah Palin would be joining her at a "backyard barbecue" Thursday in Naples.

Benacquisto announced Palin's endorsement last week for the 19th Congressional District seat.

The April 22 special election Republican primary, which was set in January after Trey Radel's resignation a few months after his cocaine conviction, pits Benacquisto against Paige Kreegel, Curt Clawson and Michael Dreikorn.

Thursday's event, which is $500 a head, comes about a week before candidates are required to report to the Federal Election Commission how much they've earned in donations.

Palin was last in Naples in November on a book tour for her Christmas-themed "Good Tidings and Great Joy."

Her visit could energize Benacquisto supporters but likely won't gain votes for her, said Peter Bergerson, FGCU political science professor.

"It's going to energize her supporters, it's going to lead perhaps to additional campaign contributions and it will add to her prestige or profile as a legitimate Republican who's part of the mainstream Republican establishment ... But is it going to make a significant difference in switching voters? No," he said.

Palin "has marquee status" in Southwest Florida because she "speaks voters' political language," Bergerson said.

Voters she won't be reaching will include those who attend a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum on Sanibel that night.

On March 14, Benacquisto's campaign said in an email she wouldn't be able to attend the event "because she would be in service in Tallahassee," organizer Dick Calkins said.

"Things can change, I don't know. But they said she was working," he said.

The other three Republican candidates and write-in Republican Timothy Rossano, plus Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood, will attend the event.

Clawson and Kreegel used the announcement as an opportunity to criticize their opponent.

"Its clear voters of this district are not good enough for Lizbeth to see, but high-dollar donors are. This shows where her priorities are," Kreegel spokesman Alex Melendez said in an email.

Benacquisto has missed several forums since the legislative session began in March, said Clawson spokesman David James.

Benacquisto spokeswoman Erin Issac did not respond to questions about the event or whether Benacquisto would attend the forum.

The Sanibel forum is at 7 p.m. at the Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way.

For barbecue tickets, contact

info@lizbethforcongress.com.

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