TAMPA — Democratic incumbent Kathy Castor's U.S. House district, which includes a good slice of Tampa, has long been unkind to Republicans.
Eddie Adams Jr. and Evelio "EJ" Otero Jr. face off in Tuesday's GOP primary with the winner challenging Castor in November's general election.
Otero, 51, is new to politics after 28 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel. Adams, 58, is running his fifth campaign for office but has never won, including three bids for Castor's seat.
Castor's grip on the seat will be hard to break, both men say. The heavily Democratic district 14 also includes much of St. Petersburg and a swath of coastal southeast Hillsborough.
But Adams said the upcoming Republican National Convention may alter the political landscape.
"God gave Tampa the Republican National Convention," he said. "That's going to generate millions for the city. It will create an economic boom for a short period. Maybe some folks will feel beholden to the Republican Party. It won't be such a bad thing to be a Republican in Tampa this year. People vote their pocket."
Adams, of Temple Terrace, has never come close to unseating Castor. She beat him by about 40 percentage points in 2006 and 2008. In 2010, he lost the GOP primary to Mike Prendergast in the Republican primary.
Otero also notes the challenge. "It'd be dishonest it I said it's not an uphill fight."
Otero is ahead in fundraising as of June 30. He's raised $72,746 to Adams' $225.
In his 14 years at MacDill Air Force Base, Otero worked at U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, which spearheaded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A political science and journalism major at Iowa State University, Otero also has a master's degree from the Air War College. His father, Cuba native Evelio Otero Sr., was a well-known journalist and the first television news anchorman in Puerto Rico starting in 1948.
The elder Otero died in a 1988 house fire in Maryland when his son was living with him. Otero said he was burned as he unsuccessfully tried to pull his father out of the flames. "That was the worst day of my life," Otero said.
Otero, a Tampa resident and native of Puerto Rico, worked in intelligence at MacDill and overseas. He also collaborated with other nations partnered with SOCom.
He said the decision to run for office was tied to his unhappiness with the Obama administration's handling of foreign and military affairs.
With cuts in defense spending, Otero said, politicians need to work harder to ensure that MacDill operations are not endangered. It will help to have someone in office who has a deep understanding of the military, he added.
Otero warns that it's always possible that the Pentagon would close the base to save cash. "They would close (MacDill) at the drop of a hat," he said.
He also supports increased trade with Latin America, lower taxes and fewer regulations on business and reforms for the IRS and in Congress.
Adams' first run for office was an unsuccessful bid for Temple Terrace City Council, running as a Democrat. Adams, grandson of a Baptist preacher, said he decided the switch parties after that loss because he found his political philosophy better matched the GOP.
On his website, Adams said, "We ... must never forget that our rights come from God Almighty, and that the ... values that have sustained humanity for millennia — marriage between a man and a woman, respect for life, and a common sense of right and wrong — should be reflected in our government."
Adams' parents separated when he was 6, and as the oldest of five children, Adams said he was forced to mature quickly and help his mother raise and care for the family.
He got a degree in microbiology from the University of South Florida and worked at Tampa General Hospital from 1977 to 1996 as a lab tech.
Adams said he became frustrated by the lack of opportunity for advancement, and in a career shift, he earned a master's degree at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University/USF Cooperative School of Architecture and Design.
Today, he owns Adams & Associates Residential Design.
He also has been active in civic affairs, and is a member of the Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the Central City YMCA.
Adams supports balancing the federal budget, promoting job growth and expanding the Port of Tampa. He criticizes Otero for saying MacDill might be closed, which he said is unrealistic.
"We have to make Tampa Bay like Silicon Valley," he said. "We need to create new jobs where none exist. That takes new ideas."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.