After months of quietly courting big donors nationwide, the front-runners for the District 9 congressional seat are turning their focus back to the home front. The candidates are buzzing across a tri-county swath of the Tampa Bay area, going door to door, doling out bumper stickers and lining up campaign appearances. And that level of activity is unusual for this unwieldy district, which spans northern Pinellas, western Pasco and suburban Hillsborough counties.
It has been decades since District 9 has been the site of a serious contest. But now, with 24-year incumbent Rep. Michael Bilirakis set to retire and flagging approval ratings for the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress, both parties have designated the district an important battleground for building a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.