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Kathy Castor hasn’t been in a primary in 12 years. That changed this year.

The Tampa Democrat, elected in 2006, says challenger Christopher Bradley is prompting her to knock on doors earlier this election.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor faces her first primary opponent since being elected in 2006 in Christopher Bradley, a first-time candidate and cybersecurity expert.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor faces her first primary opponent since being elected in 2006 in Christopher Bradley, a first-time candidate and cybersecurity expert. [ Castor and Bradley campaigns ]
Published Aug. 16

TAMPA — Kathy Castor has had the quintessential safe seat.

Since being elected in 2006, the 55-year-old Tampa Democrat had one primary challenge in 2010. She won 84% of the vote.

And recent redistricting of the 14th Congressional District, which once again reaches across the bay to take in St. Petersburg’s waterfront and the Sunshine City’s southern neighborhoods, has only made Castor’s district more blue.

In 2020, nearly 60% of voters picked Joe Biden over Donald Trump for president.

But Christopher Bradley, 45, a military cyber expert and Tampa business owner, thinks Castor has grown too complacent in her Washington, D.C., job.

The ethos of the Democratic party, Bradley told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board in early July, was to help out the middle and working classes.

“That’s been forgotten by our incumbent,” Bradley said. Castor’s seat has been safe, he said. “You tend not to work as hard.”

Castor disagrees. She points to COVID-related small-business relief, education and climate change work as evidence. A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Castor is close with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who named her chairperson of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

“Complacent is not in my vocabulary,” she said in a July 21 interview.

Castor grew up in Hillsborough County, attending Chamberlain High School before heading to Emory University for college, then picking up a law degree at Florida State. She’s the daughter of Hillsborough political legend Betty Castor. Although not related to Mayor Jane Castor, she said the two work together closely on transportation and other issues in Tampa, the district’s heart.

Bradley’s challenge has been a blessing in disguise, Castor said. It’s gotten her ground game running sooner and led to meeting potential new St. Petersburg voters along the city’s waterfront stretching up to Feather Sound. She previously represented southern St. Petersburg before the Florida Supreme Court ordered the district redrawn, in part because it crossed Tampa Bay.

What’s her pitch when those doors open? Turnout. Especially among Gen Z and millennials, she said, who tend to stay home during midterms.

“I’m a leader on tackling the climate crisis and trying to bring clean energy to Florida — a state that’s woefully behind. I feel a real moral obligation,” Castor said.

And she’ll remind those voters of recent Supreme Court decisions, including removing the constitutional right to an abortion.

“It’s a real wake up call,” Castor said.

Aside from canvassing, Castor hasn’t decided how much of the more than $1 million in cash on hand she’ll spend in the primary. It depends in part, she said, on how her opponent’s fundraising is going.

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So far, Bradley has raised just over $39,000, with $6,249 cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission as of Aug. 3. Castor has raised nearly $1.2 million.

The two haven’t met or debated publicly.

Bradley said he’ll be practical in Congress, joining more senior and powerful members in pushing legislation. But his cybersecurity experience taught him that the country’s defenses against malicious internet attacks is shoddy at best. If elected, he would propose joining with the private sector to create “cyber privateers,” in the mold of Revolutionary War ship captains who were rewarded for disrupting British shipping and supply lines to the then-colony.

Bradley also said he’d like to create federal housing relief programs for the middle class. Mentioning his rent was recently raised by 65%, he said Congress already has plenty of housing assistance for the poor.

“But there’s nothing for the middle class that would help them,” Bradley said in the editorial board interview.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face one of three Republicans vying for the GOP nod in the Nov. 8 general election.

Castor is running on her party’s record, including passing the largest infrastructure outlay in history —nearly $2 billion — in 2021. She’ll remind voters of her advocacy for better transit options and cleaning up Tampa Bay. And of her commitment to defend against the “very extreme tangent” that the GOP is pursuing, including the “rollback of rights” that began with overturning Roe v. Wade.

“I love my hometown and I work every day for every neighbor. People continue to come up with and say thank you for regular town halls during the pandemic,” Castor said.

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