Dream A Little Dream

GOPers in Congressional 11 don't fit the mold; Higginbotham makes a decision.

Mike Massaro knows "it's an uphill climb."

Jim Greenwald admits "the Republican Party has been less than enthusiastic about this campaign."

At this time last year, Eddie Adams Jr. was a Democrat, and he acknowledges the idea of running as a black Republican is "swimming upstream."

All three, however, are seeking the Republican nomination to run against the Democrat who — unless there is some kind of seismic shift in Tampa politics — will be the next Congressman from District 11. The Democrats running include Kathy Castor, Les Miller, Scott Farrell, Albert Fox and Michael Steinberg.

District 11, held presently by Democrat Jim Davis, is one of the most vivid examples of gerrymandering in Florida. It was made extremely Democratic, extremely urban and extremely liberal by Republicans who leached "R" voters out of it to make other surrounding districts solidly conservative.

As one GOP activist told me this week, even Davis — a centrist DLC-type — would have a problem winning an election in the district against, say, a strong liberal African-American candidate. Republicans did not even mount token opposition to Davis in the past few elections. But now that he is stepping aside to run for Florida governor, a few people are looking at the District 11 windmill and softly humming "The Impossible Dream."

Now let's just short-circuit the inevitable guffaws from consultants who would laugh these three out of their offices (as I would have when I was a political campaigner). Not to mention the hardcore Republicans who will argue that at least one of these three people doesn't deserve the title "Republican." Yes, this race is hardwired against a Republican of any stripe.

But something drives these three people with little-to-no prior experience to think they can overcome those odds. What is it? Different answers drive them.

Massaro is the most conventional of the bunch. He's an Army veteran of Desert Storm (the first Iraq War) and makes national defense his first priority. "I'm concerned about the rhetoric about what a 'poor' job the troops are doing," he said. "I respect them. The War on Terror is going to be one of the main points of debate" in the upcoming Congress, and Massaro said he will not vote to "cut and run" in the struggle that has killed Americans, innocent Iraqis and terrorists alike.

Massaro has been in the Army and Air Force reserves, and worked as a public school history teacher. He is currently on leave as a middle school career specialist. The 41-year-old is a native of Tampa and clearly the most conservative in the race, even if his answers on the issues (he doesn't support gay marriage but would allow for some system of partnership benefits and unions) are more nuanced. He will have to explain two recent bankruptcies (one in 1995 over a dispute with a car dealership and a new car he bought that had stopped running; the second the result of three months of unemployment and a dispute with his mortgage company) to GOP primary voters.

For Adams, the race is about, well, race. As the first African-American candidate for office in Temple Terrace (he finished last in a five-person race for City Council), Adams said it is time that African Americans realize they need to participate in the majority party.

"Never put all your eggs in one basket," he said of black voters' historical hew to the Democratic Party. "We have managed to do that. And now we are complaining we don't have any representation."

Adams said he has had a warm reception from party officials locally, in Tallahassee and in Washington, even if they concede the race is extremely difficult.

"I believe it is something we can do," said Adams, 52.

There is a touch of pragmatism in Greenwald's rationale as well. The 57-year-old accountant from Gulfport lives just four houses inside the sprawling District 11. He is a former California resident whose platform includes opposition to the war, nationalizing health care and concern for the environment. What the hell is this guy doing in the Republican Party?

"I believe in balanced budgets," he said. "I don't consider myself a Bush Republican [he voted for Nader in 2004], but I consider myself a Republican."

His main issue in the campaign is the realistic idea that a Democrat going to Congress will be able to bring home absolutely nothing to his/her district, since the party is so far in the minority. Greenwald has been a Democrat and Independent, but switched to the GOP for this race. He's been speaking to progressive groups, visiting such folks as Democracy For America in anticipation of being the nominee.

Al Higginbotham will step down as chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party in February in order to run for Ronda Storms' seat on the County Commission. In an e-mail to friends and supporters last week, Higginbotham made official the rumors that swirled in the wake of Storms' decision to seek a pulpit in the Florida Senate.

Higginbotham wrote: "After great thought, prayer and consultation with Devon, Allen and Kaylon I have made the decision to file and run for County Commission District 4. As a conservative Republican!!!"

Higginbotham has greatly modernized the county's party machinery, recruited hundreds of new Republican foot soldiers and is greatly respected both locally and by folks up to and including Gov. Jeb Bush. He'll prove formidable.

Republican power brokers have lined up behind Higginbotham, driving others out of the race and making him a shoo-in. Democrats have almost no shot in the highly conservative district. So start calling him Commissioner Higginbotham.

Watch for the GOP to turn to Vice Chairman David Storck to replace Higginbotham. Done deal.

Bob "Coach" Henriquez has switched plans and will now run for Tampa City Council in 2007. He had been set to run for Hillsborough County Commission this year. That will leave the seat open for another Democratic candidate; Planet arts critic (on hiatus) Mary Mulhern is still considering a run there.

Political Whore can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or by telephone at 813-739-4805.

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