Democrat Kathy Castor appeared headed to victory Tuesday night in the fight to keep the U.S. House seat in District 11 against Republican retired Army Col. Mike Prendergast.
The race was tighter than expected. With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting in Hillsborough County, Castor, 44, was leading with just over half the vote. She easily won in both Pinellas and Manatee counties.
"In a time when folks have gone through a tough economic time, you just don't take anything for granted," Castor said.
The two-year-term seat represents a large part of Tampa, a chunk of south St. Petersburg and a part of northern Manatee and pays $174,000 a year.
Prendergast, 54, had never run for office before. He said he decided to enter the race while serving in Afghanistan last year, watching American unemployment climb. He beat three other Republicans in the primary.
"I'm extremely grateful and proud of everybody who worked on our campaign," Prendergast said, "and I'm optimistic that the rest of the country has recognized the problems we face and has chosen to deal with them."
Castor ran on a promise to create local jobs, highlighting the high-speed rail project funded by federal stimulus money as a major economic boon. She also focused on accountability for BP oil executives and preserving Social Security and Medicare.
"It's time to redouble our efforts to fight for economic recovery," Castor said. "Whether folks voted for me or they didn't, that will continue to be my focus."
Castor raised $822,380 in this election, about twice as much as Prendergast.
Prendergast blamed Democrats in Congress, including Castor and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for out-of-control government spending.
Prendergast clamored for a debate with Castor, but other than a candidate forum at a Tiger Bay luncheon before the primary, the two never faced off.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.