Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, may end up in a swing district

Draft map proposals would take part of the Tampa district into Pinellas.
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor speaks to the crowd before the arrival of Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden during a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Oct. 29, 2020 in Tampa.
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor speaks to the crowd before the arrival of Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden during a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Oct. 29, 2020 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 19, 2021

The draft map proposals from the Florida Senate redistricting committee for new congressional districts could lead to a major shakeup in the Tampa Bay area delegation, including the first serious challenge to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, since her 2006 election.

Political insiders had few ideas about what prominent Republicans might step up as challengers if the districts end up looking like the Senate proposals, but said there’s sure to be intense interest.

There’s no guarantee the districts eventually adopted will look like the Senate committee proposals. The state House redistricting committee hasn’t yet released its proposed maps. When it does, negotiations between the two chambers will follow and produce a joint resolution, which, once approved, is then sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature or veto.

Since the 1990s, Tampa has been the heart of a heavily Democratic congressional district engineered to pack Democrats so the surrounding districts could elect Republicans.

Castor has won the seat, now numbered District 14, in every general election since 2006 by at least 20 points and has been unopposed twice.

Having a safe seat has freed her to take strong positions on tough issues. She was a leading proponent of Obamacare and the Biden administration infrastructure bill. She is chairperson of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

She had $515,375 in campaign cash at the end of September.

The Senate redistricting committee’s four draft maps, all identical in the Tampa Bay area, would convert District 14 into a potential swing district. It would cover the western half of Hillsborough County from Keystone to Gibsonton, splitting Tampa, and cross the bay to take in a large slice of northeastern Pinellas.

According to an analysis by Matthew Isbell of MCI Maps, the area voted for Biden over Trump in 2020 by a 5-point margin, 52-47 percent.

The current District 14, by comparison, went for Biden 57-42 percent.

Christine Quinn, who lost to Castor in 2016 and 2020, filed to run again in next year’s election. But she recently switched to the District 13 seat now held by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, joining Audrey Henson, Amanda Makki and Anna Paulina Luna in a GOP primary.

Quinn said she preferred to run for an open seat — Crist is leaving to run for governor — and didn’t like the internal dissension among Hillsborough Republicans.

She still lives in Hillsborough in District 14 but moved her business to Pinellas two years ago and is shopping for a condo in Pinellas, she said.

Former Green Beret medic Jay Collins, a political newcomer, has also filed against Castor in District 14.

Collins, who has raised more than $110,000 since filing in July, appears to be mounting an energetic campaign, said local GOP consultant Mark Proctor.

But if the district lines end up looking like the Senate proposal, he’s not likely to have the GOP field to himself.

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“If these lines stay as they are, there are likely to be additional serious candidates,” Proctor said. “There are definitely people interested but they’ve always seen it as a district a Republican can’t win.”

The Castor campaign declined to comment on the maps.

In addition to converting Castor’s district to a swing district, the maps would also reduce the Democratic margin in Crist’s District 13 to a razor-thin edge. Biden won the proposed District 13 by less than 2 percentage points.

Since the Senate committee’s proposals were released, local political insiders are speculating on whether they’ll resemble the final product produced by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

County Democratic Party chairperson Ione Townsend called the Senate maps “a trial balloon.”

Some Democrats say there may be objections to putting large chunks of Pinellas voters into Tampa-based District 14, and to another feature of the proposed maps — combining most of conservative east Hillsborough with parts of inner-city Tampa in a proposed new, Democratic-leaning District 15.

Others say GOP legislators may be calculating that Republicans could sweep all three districts, eliminating the Tampa and St. Petersburg Democrats and producing an entirely Republican Tampa Bay area congressional delegation.