The race for the 11th U.S. Congressional District this year is pretty crowded. Four Republican and two Democratic candidates are vying for the seat now held by Democrat Kathy Castor.
Castor, 44, easily snagged her spot in the last two elections. But how is she feeling with five hopefuls nipping at her heels?
"I love campaigns," Castor said. "It's energizing for me."
In other words, bring it on.
Castor said her campaign focuses on ensuring accountability for BP oil executives and strengthening the economy. She also wants to let former President George W. Bush's tax cuts expire and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She said she's confident her constituents will stand behind her again, despite all the opponents who recently emerged.
Her competition includes small business owners and military men. They all say they're running because they think Congress is out of control.
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The lone Democrat facing Castor in the primary is Tim Curtis, 53, owner of a Temple Terrace UPS Store franchise.
"If I'm being identified with everyday Americans, I'm proud to do so," said Curtis, who enjoys the backing of the Tea Party movement.
Curtis, who served 20 years in the Marine Corps, has no political experience, but he said he has experience creating jobs. He said curbing federal spending is his main objective.
"This is not a game for me. This is not some kind of glory snap. This is serious business," Curtis said.
Of the Republicans across the aisle, only Eddie Adams Jr., 56, has run for office before — losing to Castor for this post in 2006 and 2008.
Adams said he's confident in his chances this time.
"I have a base," he said. "I've done the legwork … I didn't start my campaign six months ago."
Adams wants to raise revenue for Florida by cutting taxes and pushing for drilling off the coast, despite the BP oil spill.
He said it's not fair that Floridians share the spill risk and responsibility but do not reap drilling benefits. "The gulf is a fishbowl, so everybody's got the same problem, but everybody's making money except us," Adams said.
He cited experience with his own architecture firm, Adams and Associates Residential Design, as another reason why he's an ideal candidate. "We solve problems everyday," Adams said.
Another Republican candidate and small business owner echoed that sentiment.
Tommy Castellano, 60, owner of Castellano Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., said, "Guys like me who represent the people need to make noise."
Castellano said he understands the economic downturn firsthand. Before the summer rush for A/C service, he said he had to lay off more than a dozen employees.
"I'm not a good ol' boy," Castellano said. "I'm a hard-working American."
The two remaining Republican candidates highlighted their military experience.
"I understand what it means to take an oath and what it means to live by that oath," said Mike Prendergast, 54, a colonel who retired from the Army in 2009 after 31 years.
Prendergast said he grew angry watching U.S. unemployment rise as he was stationed overseas. He thinks the government lacks accountability and needs better leadership.
"I intend to work hard unshackling Florida families from massive debt and spending in Washington that's been forced upon us," he said.
Tony Buntyn, 49, another new face to politics and a military colonel, spent 31 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Buntyn also owns his own business, a cybersecurity consulting firm called U.S. Cyber Solutions Inc. He agreed with his opponents that deficit spending must be stopped.
He added that he thinks fiscal problems are more important than social issues. To spur economic growth, Buntyn wants to eliminate payroll and capital gains taxes for two years.
All the candidates running against Castor, including her Democratic opponent, favor lower taxes. None support a timetable for withdrawal in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Reach Kim Wilmath at (813) 661-2442 or [email protected]