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Hot race didn't need primary to build interest

National Democrats are targeting Republican Rep. Clay Shaw. Neither he nor his Nov. 7 foe, Ron Klein, had opposition Tuesday.

Published September 7, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's primary election set the table for races in eight congressional districts, but it had no effect on the state's hottest congressional matchup.

Neither incumbent Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, nor his Democratic challenger in the 22nd District, state Sen. Ron Klein of Boca Raton, had a primary opponent Tuesday.

It is one of three Florida districts that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted for its "Red to Blue" program focused on gaining at least 15 seats needed to take control of the House from Republicans in the Nov. 7 general election.

"This is just a favorable year for Democrats," committee spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod said Wednesday. She contended that voter dissatisfaction over issues ranging from the war in Iraq to high fuel prices will help Democrats achieve that objective.

Republicans are countering by trying to shift the focus away from national issues in the 22nd District and other congressional races.

"We're going to make this a local choice," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ed Patru. "Nobody in Florida is sending a representative to Congress because of their feelings on Iraq to the exclusion of their own community."

Democrats nearly unseated Shaw in 2000 when he beat former state Rep. Elaine Bloom by 589 votes. The GOP-controlled Legislature then redrew the district to include more Republican voters. Shaw won re-election with 61 percent two years ago against a last-minute Democratic substitute for candidate who withdrew. Democrats nevertheless were encouraged because their candidates for president and U.S. Senate won the district with 52 and 54 percent.

Other Florida candidates that Democrats are pushing are former Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busanksy and Sarasota banker Christine Jennings, both running for open seats now held by Republicans.

Jennings, a former Republican, won the Democratic primary against Sarasota lawyer Jan Schneider, who twice before had failed to unseat Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Longboat Key, in the 13th District. Harris, meanwhile, won the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Jennings will face Sarasota auto dealer Vern Buchanan, who won a five-way Republican primary. It's a tall order, because Republicans have a substantial advantage in voter registration. Also, Buchanan has raised $4-million, including $2-million from his own pocket, the most of any congressional candidate in the nation.

"Democrats are never going to win the money war," Elrod said. "Christine Jennings will certainly have the resources that she needs."

Buchanan was nominated with just 32 percent of the GOP vote in a primary marked by bitter exchanges between him and another candidate.

"We expected to see a vigorous primary," Patru said. "He's now a battle-tested candidate."

Busanksy, who had no primary opposition, is running against Republican state Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor in the 9th District. Bilirakis, who easily defeated a political novice in the primary, is trying to win the seat his father, Rep. Mike Bilirakis, has held for the last 24 years. The elder Bilirakis is retiring.

Democrats also are targeting a few other Florida districts.

Business consultant Charlie Stuart won the Democratic nomination in a three-way primary and will challenge Republican Rep. Ric Keller in Orlando's 8th District. Keller defeated a single primary opponent.

Stuart comes from a well-known Central Florida family. One brother, Robert, is an Orlando city commissioner; another, George, is a former state senator; and a third, Jacob, is president of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In the 16th District, another Republican-turned-Democrat, Tim Mahoney, is challenging GOP incumbent Rep. Mark Foley of Fort Pierce. Neither had primary opposition. Mahoney is a financial services executive from Palm Beach Gardens.

Republicans, who have an 18-7 advantage in Florida, are not challenging any of six Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, although one, Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, has a write-in opponent in the 17th District.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor of Tampa is a clear favorite for the 11th District seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Jim Davis, his party's nominee for governor. Castor easily won a five-way Democratic primary and will face Republican Eddie Adams Jr., a Temple Terrace architect.

Other primary contests were won Tuesday by these candidates, all Democrats: John Russell in the 5th District, Bob Bowman in the 15th and Clint Curtis in the 24th.

[Last modified September 7, 2006, 00:56:18]

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