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For Democratic primaries

In the Tampa Bay area, there are three Democratic primaries for Congress on Aug. 26. In each case, the winner will face a better-known Republican incumbent in November.

John Russell | District 5 John Russell's in-your-face temperament and style of campaigning has infuriated many and gotten him banned for life from Disney properties. It also squashed any chance for a substantive debate of issues during his 2006 race against Republican Ginny Brown-Waite, the three-term incumbent in the 5th Congressional District.

Russell says he is not solely to blame for the fireworks and will not back down from challenges or provocations. He says, however, that he was "inexperienced and ill-prepared'' in 2006 and insists he will conduct an issues-based campaign during his third run for Congress.

Voters in the sprawling district, which touches eight counties including Hernando, Pasco, Citrus and Sumter, deserve nothing less.

Russell, 52, from Dade City, says the top issue facing voters is the war in Iraq, "because everything else is tied up with it.'' He advocates a withdrawal of troops within 16 months. An acute-care nurse practitioner, Russell speaks knowledgeably about America's health care crisis and urges a national single-payer health care plan that would provide coverage to everyone.

Carol Castagnero, 69, a retired teacher from Lakeland, is passionate about improving the nation's education system. Rather than promote her own agenda, she distributes a survey at functions asking voters to rank the issues they would like her to tackle.

David Werder's claim to fame is sitting atop a 30-foot flagpole in Clearwater from Nov. 7, 1982, to Jan. 21, 1984. Werder, 53, of Hudson, acknowledges he is running because he needs the health insurance that comes with the job.

Russell, who won 40 percent of the vote in his 2006 loss to Brown-Waite, is the best choice in a weak field. For Democrats in the primary race for U.S. House District 5, the Times recommends John Russell.

John Dicks | District 9 If Democrats are trying to win what has been a safe Republican seat by painting the incumbent, Gus Bilirakis, as ineffective in Washington and unresponsive at home, John Dicks is in the strongest position to make the case for change.

Dicks, 55, is an attorney and former mayor and city commissioner of Plant City, in eastern Hillsborough County. The Florida native has the best grasp of the issues. His plans to reduce federal spending, expand health insurance and increase America's energy independence are the right priorities for the nation and the district. Dicks opposes relaxing the ban on oil drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast. He favors shifting the Bush tax cuts from the wealthiest to the middle class when the cuts expire in 2010.

Bill Mitchell, 61, a Tampa attorney, has sensible ideas for making prescription drugs more affordable and protecting the environment. A Navy veteran, he also has a laudable record of community service and is especially sensitive to veterans' issues.

Anita de Palma, a 71-year-old activist for Latinos from Clearwater, shows passion and an uncommon level of decency in her concern over ending the war in Iraq and improving the lives of immigrants, the jobless and the homeless.

Dicks, though, is better prepared and more assertive. His years in the region and broad community service enable him to balance the diverse needs of a meandering district, which includes part of the north Pinellas coast, retiree communities in west Pasco and the suburban and farm areas of north and eastern Hillsborough.

For Democrats in the primary race for U.S. House District 9, the Times recommends John Dicks.

Bob Hackworth | District 10 It isn't often Democrats line up to challenge longtime Republican incumbent C.W. Bill Young for his Pinellas congressional seat. This is just the third Democratic primary in 30 years, and three candidates are competing to win the nomination in District 10 and face Young in the general election. In temperament and experience, the Democrat best prepared to wage a long-shot campaign against the popular Republican is Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth.

Hackworth, 53, was first elected to the Dunedin City Commission in 2002 and was elected mayor two years ago. Those are nonpartisan offices, and Hackworth said he never gave party affiliation much thought until he switched from Republican to Democrat earlier this year. He has carved out a moderate record in Dunedin, showing particular leadership on environmental issues and civil rights. He helped balance the city budget without cutting services and helped the city navigate a sensitive transition in city managers.

Max Linn, 48, is a retired financial planner who first made his name advocating term limits. A former Republican, he ran as the Reform Party's candidate for governor in 2006 and won less than 2 percent of the vote. Now a Democrat, he describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal and vows to help the middle class. But he is more of an opportunist than anything else, switching issues and political parties in a transparent attempt to get somebody — anybody — to pay attention.

Samm Simpson, 54, a free-lance broadcaster, ran against Young two years ago and won 34 percent of the vote. She is passionate in her opposition to the war and the Bush administration, and she has been a Democrat longer than her opponents. But that is not enough.

All three Democrats have similar views on issues such as reducing the number of military troops in Iraq and promoting universal health care. But to have any chance against Young, the party nominee has to offer more than emotion and sound bites. For Democrats in the primary race for U.S. House District 10, the Times recommends Bob Hackworth.

Opportunity to reply The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Congress should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Friday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or online at: Replies are limited to 200 words.

For Democratic primaries 08/11/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2008 7:57pm]
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