BROOKSVILLE — Congressional candidate John Russell must feel like he's campaigning against a ghost.
The Dade City Democrat's opponent, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, is refusing to appear at any political forum where Russell is scheduled to speak.
The three-term Republican incumbent recently declined an invitation to a WEDU televised debate and has bypassed political forums in Citrus and Pasco counties, two of the eight counties that are part of the 5th Congressional District.
And this week, Brown-Waite plans to skip Thursday's Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce candidate night — a prominent Hernando political event — to spend time with her daughter in Tennessee who just adopted a baby.
Russell said she is avoiding public accountability at a time when voters have many questions about her record.
"The public is who she is running away from," he said. "It is a big deal this time because people are in pain from top to bottom and she has some explaining to do."
In a recent interview, Brown-Waite said she is not opposed to facing off against Russell. She blamed scheduling conflicts caused by congressional votes and the terminal illness of her late husband, Harvey.
Her spokesman Charlie Keller dismissed the notion that she is avoiding potentially risky campaign forums as part of a political calculation, considering that she holds a seat deemed safe by Republican party leaders. Brown-Waite defeated Russell in 2006, pulling in 60 percent of the votes cast.
"The congresswoman has a voting record," Keller said. "She's voted thousands of times and people can look that up. The congresswoman is out and about. She's doing plenty of events."
But Brown-Waite also indicated she is not interested in attending any event where Russell is present.
"Well, quite honestly, being in the same room with him isn't exactly on my top tier of things I want to subject myself to," Brown-Waite told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board Oct. 9. "Nor would anybody in their right mind."
Her feelings, in part, allude to the nasty 2006 campaign between Brown-Waite and Russell. In that contest, political forums nearly spun out of control as the candidates and their supporters trampled the typically respectful decorum. Keller said Russell's "demeanor and his attitude … is not behavior she wants to be associated with."
Avoiding these candidate forums doesn't mean Brown-Waite isn't campaigning. Instead, she's mostly meeting with fellow Republicans and attending community festivals where she's not likely to get challenged.
For example, on the day of the taped television debate at the local PBS affiliate, she met with the North Suncoast Republican Executive Committee, attended the Cedar Key Seafood Festival and appeared at a World War II ceremony at Sugarmill Woods in Citrus County.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.