Karen Castor Dentel may come from one of the most prominent Democratic families in Florida but that might not be enough to help her win a second term in the Florida House.
Castor Dentel beat Scott Plakon in 2012 but that Republican had moved over from his Seminole County base to HD 30 in order to help Chris Dorworth. Republicans are hoping they can grasp this seat back as Bob Cortes runs against Castor Dentel in November.
This is one of the most competitive House districts in Florida. In 2012, Republicans made up 38 percent of the district, which includes parts of Seminole and Orange counties, and Democrats were 37 percent of the voters here. This time out, Democrats are still at 37 percent while Republicans are at 36 percent. Fittingly enough, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were evenly divided here in 2012.
But Democrats can often have a slight edge. Alex Sink beat out Rick Scott by 4 percent in what is now HD 30 in 2010. Castor Dentel did even better two years later, running ahead of Obama by taking 53 percent against Plakon who had 47 percent.
Castor Dentel is returning to the themes that helped her beat Plakon in 2014: growing Central Floridas economy, more infrastructure, education funding and job training. On some bread-and-butter Democratic issues like expanding Medicaid and abortion, Castor Dentel sings out of her partys hymn book.
Democrats have rewarded Castor Dentel in kind. By Oct. 3, she had raised almost $253,000, spent more than $155,000 from that and used more than $69,000 of in-kind donations. Its a big haul for a freshman state representative from the minority party but Castor Dentel has been pegged by Florida Democrats as something of a rising star. While she is not as well-known as her mother or her sister, Castor Dentel is starting to create some buzz and her background in education has helped make her a darling of the teachers unions.
Republicans hope Cortes can shoot down this rising star. Cortes got 56 percent of the primary vote against Scott Sturgill and left his post on the Longwood City Comission to focus on his House campaign. The GOP has gone of its way to help Cortes and he has some big-name Republicans endorsing his campaign.
But the primary against Sturgill took a toll on Cortes and he is struggling in the money chase against Castor Dentel. While he raised $122,000 by Oct. 3, Cortes had already spent more than $136,500 -- meaning, if he had not loaned his campaign $25,000 he would be in severe trouble. He also used more than $48,000 of in-kind donations. Still, the GOP is picking up the pace in its help for Cortes.
Cortes has drawn on his business background -- including running a towing company -- in crafting his stances on the issues, calling for less red tape and speeding up permits. On education, Cortes is calling for more focus on the classroom and more vocational training.
This is a swing district, to be sure, but Castor Dentel has shown she will outperform other Democrats here. Cortes will be competitive but Castor Dentel has a big edge when it comes to cash on hand in the final weeks of the campaign. Shes the favorite to hold on here butthe makeup of this district ensures Cortes has a chance to pull off the upset.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.