TAMPA — The race to challenge Kathy Castor in a congressional district that covers Tampa and parts of St. Petersburg features three political novices and an early dose of drama.
James Judge, Sam Nashagh and Jerry Torres are first-time candidates vying to win the Republican primary for the opportunity to challenge Castor, who has served in Congress since her 2006 election.
So far, the news in the campaign has revolved around ballot viability.
Judge was temporarily removed from the ballot after a challenge to his filing paperwork, but a judge later reinstated him for the primary.
Soon after, Torres’ candidacy came into question when the Florida Democratic Party launched a legal challenge seeking his removal from the ballot, also for paperwork questions — in this case, whether he was present for the notarization of his filing papers.
Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals has stayed a judge’s ruling removing Torres from the ballot. Final briefs before the court were due Monday.
Torres claims U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and her husband instigated that lawsuit seeking to remove him from the ballot, according to court documents.
A services contractor for government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, Torres lives in Lakeland. Judge, who owns a public relations agency, lives in Pasco County. Both of them live outside the congressional district’s boundaries.
That, says Nashagh, might be a difference-maker.
“I’m the actual only Tampa candidate, registered GOP voter since 1992,” Nashagh told the Tampa Bay Times. Nashagh lives in Tampa but has spent time elsewhere, mostly for the military.
Nashagh, 48, who moved to Tampa in 1982 with his mother and siblings when he was 8 years old, was homeless as his family lived in a truck stop for a short time before his mother was able to secure a permanent home for the family. He graduated from Hillsborough High School and later from Florida State University in 1999. He later served in the Marines, eventually as a helicopter pilot.
“It’s not a sob story, it’s just the American dream story. You can be anything,” Nashagh said.
Judge, 38, however, has also positioned himself as the native son. Judge was born at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, attended Dunedin High School and went to Eckerd College. He, too, spent time elsewhere while serving in the Coast Guard.
“I’m the only candidate born and raised in the Tampa Bay area,” he said. “I would hope they vote for the local guy.”
The Torres campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, biographical information or his stance on policy issues.
Members of Congress aren’t required to live in the district they represent.
Judge points to signing a pledge for congressional term limits as an issue that sets him apart in the Aug. 23 primary. The pledge calls for a three-term limit, but Judge said he is open to other service lengths. He said Congress needs term limits because of members like Castor, whose length of tenure is evidence of a careerist and not a public servant, he told the Times editorial board in early July.
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Judge also thinks cutting federal spending is imperative, warning that rising deficits and the cumulative national debt will make this year’s inflation look like child’s play.
“If people think inflation is bad today, it’s going to be outrageous,” said Judge.
When asked what specifically he’d cut, Judge said he’s open to ideas.
Nashagh criticizes the Biden administration for the current inflation, but says he’s under no illusion that Washington will get rid of a $23.3 trillion national debt anytime son.
“I support rational spending. I don’t have unrealistic expectation that we can eliminate all of the debt,” Nashagh said.
Torres’ campaign website didn’t have any specifics about spending or the national debt, although inflation gets a mention in a quote.
“Our American Way is under threat. Rampant inflation, high gas prices, failing schools, open borders, and rising crime are making life harder for us Floridians. It’s time for rapid and profound changes, and that’s why I’m running to serve you in Congress,” he said on his website.
Guns also figure prominently in the race. Judge held an AR-15 raffle tied to fundraising. He doesn’t see a need for any changes in gun laws. And he opposes magazine capacity limits, arguing that an AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle, not an assault weapon. He told the editorial board that he and his wife camped out in her dog day care business during disturbances in Tampa following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. They both carried AR-15s to protect her business, he said.
Nashagh supports universal background checks and for purchasers and concealed carriers to be at least 21.
But he and Judge agree that there shouldn’t be any capacity limits.
In fundraising, Torres has a large lead, having raised $466,315 compared to $157,937 for Judge and $23,015 for Nashagh, according to the latest reports available on the Federal Election Commission website. Torres also enjoys a commanding lead in cash on hand.