Fla. Voters To Decide Contentious GOP Primary

Florida's 7th Congressional District was born out of redistricting. It pits longtime Rep. John Mica against freshman Rep. Sandy Adams. She has the backing of the Tea Party, but he raised more money. The contest has been particular nasty, with both candidates bringing distinct ideologies and styles.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Voters in the swing state of Florida will go to the polls tomorrow. Florida's presidential primary was last January. This primary is to choose Republican and Democratic candidates in both congressional and state races.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports, perhaps the nastiest race being decided tomorrow is between two Republicans. It pits 10-term Congressman John Mica against Sandy Adams, a freshman and Tea Party favorite.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: When Florida's legislature finished drawing new Congressional maps as part of the redistricting process, a funny thing happened. Both John Mica and Sandy Adams found their homes in the same district.

The new 7th Congressional district includes part of Orlando and towns to the northeast. It wasn't long before Sandy Adams - a first-term Republican elected with strong Tea Party support - announced she was running for the seat.

A little more than a week later, Mica, a 20-year Congressional veteran, also jumped into the race. Adams says he tried to bully her into dropping out.

REPRESENTATIVE SANDY ADAMS: If someone sits down beside you and says to you they have decided to run in the district you've announced for, and that you should move, and tells you how much money they will have cash on hand if you do not, that to me is trying to bully me.

ALLEN: Although it's happening elsewhere in the country, this is the only Congressional race in Florida where two incumbents are facing off. And in Florida's 7th District, it's not just an intraparty donnybrook. It's a clash of style and ideologies.

When John Mica ran the first time, George H.W. Bush was president. Over the years, Mica has become one of the most powerful men in Congress, working his way into the chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee. In that capacity, he enjoys a strong fundraising advantage over Adams, out-raising her almost two-to-one.

In an interview with Channel 9 in Orlando, Mica said he's gotten things done in Congress while working to hold down spending.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANNEL 9 BROADCAST)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MICA: We just had a vote - and again, if you want to compare records on the transportation bill, $16.3 billion in savings over 10 years scored, the first time we're doing a transportation bill without deficit spending, no earmarks.

ALLEN: But in his campaign ads, Mica doesn't mention that accomplishment: the first transportation bill passed by Congress in years. Adams' campaign, though, has seized on Mica's role in crafting the new transportation bill.

One of her ads shows President Obama praising Mica for helping win passage of the bill - one that allows states to add new toll lanes.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And now he's passed legislation to allow tolls on I-4.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Congressman Mica, whose leadership made this bill a reality.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There's a reason he's Obama's best cheerleader.

ALLEN: Mica has struggled to explain his support for the bill. In the past, he says, he's blocked tolls on Interstate highways - always an unpopular measure.

While Adams can't match Mica in fundraising, she has something Mica doesn't: strong support from the Tea Party. Her list of endorsements include everyone from Sarah Palin to fellow Congressman Allen West and Tea Party Express founder Amy Kremer.

In his ads, Mica has tried to undercut that support, criticizing Adams for voting while in the state legislature to accept billions in federal stimulus dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There are two Sandy Adams: campaign Sandy, who tells us what we want to hear, and big-spending Sandy, a politician we can't afford.

ALLEN: The Mica campaign says a poll it conducted shows Mica with a 30-point-plus lead over Adams. Adams dismisses that internal poll as inaccurate. It's a Republican-leaning district, so whoever wins tomorrow's primary - Mica or Adams - is favored to return to Congress this fall.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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