Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and his Democrat opponent, William "Bill'' Mitchell, both are lawyers passionate about veterans' affairs.
But that's pretty much where their similarities end.
The two disagree on nearly every major issue facing voters in Florida's 9th Congressional District, from the economy to energy to national security.
Bilirakis, 45, is wrapping up his first term. A former state representative, he won the same congressional seat two years ago that was held by his father, Mike Bilirakis, for 24 years before he retired in 2006. Gus Bilirakis said his first-term record proves he deserves to go back to Washington.
His ability to garner bipartisan support, he said, helped him pass legislation that gave pay raises to active military and increased benefits to veterans. He also sponsored a Silver Alert Bill, which passed the House and awaits Senate consideration. It would help marshal efforts to locate missing senior citizens.
Mitchell, 61, said his military experience, economic background and history of investigating oil company collusion make him uniquely qualified to serve at a time when Americans are most concerned about the war in Iraq, the national economic crisis and high fuel costs.
Navy veteran Mitchell led an investigation into offshore drilling practices as an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission in the 1970s. He is the founder and president of Mitchell Law Group in Tampa.
Though the two have appeared together only once during the campaign, they have traded barbs in direct mailings and commercials. Bilirakis accused Mitchell of opposing sales tax exemptions on food, medicine and school supplies, which Mitchell denies. And Mitchell charged Bilirakis failed to take a leadership role as the economic crisis unfolded, questioning Bilirakis' opposition to the economic bailout plan passed last month.
Mitchell said the bailout was needed to restore liquidity and free up constrained credit markets. Bilirakis explained he opposed the measure because it lacked oversight and unfairly burdened taxpayers.
Mitchell also criticized Bilirakis for voting against a measure to extend the renewable energy credit.
"Gus Bilirakis is a friend of big oil,'' Mitchell said. "He's taken thousands of dollars of contributions from the energy sector in this election cycle and he's voted to give big oil massive tax breaks. And what's more, he's voted against research into alternative energy."
But Bilirakis said he is for alternative energy, pointing to his exploratory trip this summer to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
As for offshore drilling, Bilirakis supports it if a 100-mile buffer is established. Mitchell consistently has opposed drilling offshore, saying it won't lower gas prices and also endangers Florida's coastline.
The two also are at odds over the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. Bilirakis supports the administration's decisions. Mitchell, citing human and economic costs, supports establishing a timetable for pulling troops so they can be redeployed as needed.
With name recognition on his side, Bilirakis has raised more than $1.3-million . Mitchell has raised $141,000. But he has campaigned at breakneck speed, a strategy that helped him win the Democratic primary in August, beating former Plant City Mayor John Dicks despite Dicks' support from the national party.
Two other candidates are in the race. John "Johnny K" Kalimnios, 42, has no party affiliation. He was sheriff's detention deputy, then a Tarpon Springs police officer before retiring. He now is a shop owner. Richard O. Emmons, 57, is a member of the Term Limits for Congress Party and the owner of a magazine subscription agency in New Port Richey.
Both contend they are more in touch with voters fed up with politicians who cater to special interest groups.
Kalimnios, who spent nearly a year researching an energy plan to end American dependence on foreign oil, supports tax credits for companies that don't outsource jobs. He also opposes universal health care.
Emmons supports term limits for Congress, which he says would help curb greed among power-hungry representatives. He also wants voters to have a voice in creating policy through national referendums.
District 9 spreads across North Pinellas, west Pasco and suburban northern and eastern Hillsborough.
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.
U.S. House | District 9
|Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, 45||William D. "Bill" Mitchell, D-Tampa, 61|
|Experience||Bilirakis is finishing his first term in Congress. Prior to that, he served as a state representative for District 48 from 1998 to 2006. Bilirakis was a probate and estate planning lawyer from 1990 to 2005. He serves on the House committees on Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security and Veterans' Affairs.||Mitchell is the founder and president of Mitchell Law Group. As an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission in the 1970s, he led an investigation into the offshore leasing practices of "big oil." As a lawyer, he has specialized in employment and health plan benefit cases. He is a former Naval submarine force officer and Vietnam War-era veteran.|
|Education||Bachelor's degree in political science from University of Florida; law degree from Stetson University College of Law.||Bachelor's degree in economics, University of Washington; master's degree in tax law, Georgetown University; master's degree in economics and law degree, University of California, Berkeley.|
|On the issues||He opposed two versions of the federal economic bailout bill, saying they unfairly burdened taxpayers and lacked proper oversight. He supports offshore drilling in Florida, with a 100-mile buffer. He is a strong proponent of community health centers as a measure to provide affordable health care and supports a national sales tax to replace income and other taxes. He opposes privatization of Social Security.||He supports a national catastrophic insurance fund, a family care tax credit for people caring for elderly or disabled relatives and a system to provide legal help to soldiers. He is a proponent of a timely withdrawal of troops in Iraq. He wants to see health insurance loopholes closed and supports importing prescription drugs from Canada. He opposes offshore drilling and proposals to privatize Social Security. Supports Roe vs. Wade.|
|Why he believes he is the best candidate for the job||Bilirakis said he believes his work ethic, determination and ability to garner support from members of both major parties have helped him accomplish things in Washington, like the recent House passage of the Silver Alert bill he sponsored and two consecutive bills he contributed to that raise the pay of active military.||Mitchell said he's got the experience to "crack down on oil company collusion" to lower gas prices, promote policies to turn the economy around, redeploy American troops out of Iraq and take on health insurance companies that refuse to pay claims and companies that refuse to pay pension benefits.|
|Assets||Stocks, IRAs, real estate, prepaid tuition accounts.||401(k), IRA's and other investment accounts.|
|Liabilities||Mortgage on home in Palm Harbor and law practice building in Holiday.||Student loan.|
|Net worth||Between $134,000 and $635,000, plus a Palm Harbor home with a market value of $431,000, according to his financial disclosure and property records.||Between $785,500 and $2,158,500, plus a Tampa home with a market value of $226,800, according to his financial disclosure and property records.|
|Income||House of Representatives salary, rent from law office.||Salary from Mitchell Law Group.|
|Personal||Wife, Eva; four sons.||Wife, Mary; three sons.|
About the job: U.S. representatives serve two-year terms and are paid $169,300 annually. U.S. House District 9 is spread across North Pinellas, west Pasco and suburban northern and eastern Hillsborough.