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Kathy Castor Casts an Eye on Tallahassee

February 18, 2015 - 6:00pm

Kathy Castor is starting to wade more and more into state issues, prompting whispers that the Tampa congresswoman could be looking at running for governor in 2018.

Castor has been up in arms recently, focused on state politics. Several times in recent months, she has gone after Rick Scott and the Legislature on Medicaid expansion. Even on budget issues, she brings a message that might appeal across Florida, including claiming that congressional Republicans will hurt tourism in Florida as the maneuvering over DHS and immigration continues. Castors also been one of the most vocal Democrats supporting normalizing relations with Cuba. No doubt about it, Castor is starting to raise her profile.

Strangely, Castors name is getting more buzz for a gubernatorial bid in 2018 than for a Senate bid, either in 2016 or in 2018 if Bill Nelson decides its time to bow out. Theres a lot of talk about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alan Grayson, Ted Deutch, Patrick Murphy and even rookie Gwen Graham for the Senate but almost none about Castor.

If she aims for statewide office, Castor does bring some assets to the table including being based in Tampa Bay. Still, that hasnt exactly worked for a lot of other Democrats in recent elections: Charlie Crist, Alex Sink, Jim Davis, Bill McBride and, of course, the congresswomans mother, Betty Castor. But Kathy Castor is a proven winner with 2010, a good year for Republicans. It was the only time she ever faced something even resembling a close general election as she blew out Mike Pendergast by 20 percent. Its a pretty secure Democratic district and Castor doesnt exactly come off as battle tested.

Certainly the Castor brand isnt as strong as it once was after Karen Castor Dentel, the congresswomans sister, was booted from the Florida House in November after only a single term. Even with her many years in the Florida Senate and as state education commissioner, Betty Castor didnt exactly shine when she ran against Mel Martinez for the Senate in 2004. The Castors are probably more like the Deutch and the Bilirakis political dynasties instead of the Grahams or the Macks, let alone the Bushes.

There are certainly far worse horses in the Democrats stable than Castor, but there is little that shows she is the type of candidate who can win statewide office. Now 48, Castor will have to make a decision in the years ahead about what she wants. She should be able to hang onto her House seat as long as she wants it and she is quickly moving up the depleted Democratic congressional ranks, especially on the Budget Committee.

But if Castor wants more, shell need to do a little better at getting her name out there. Her family simply doesnt resonate as it once did. Its worth keeping an eye on Castor in the months ahead to see where she fits on the political chessboard.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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