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Castor Announces Run for US Senate

(06/10/2003, St. Petersburg Times )

Betty Castor, who served as president of the University of South Florida after two terms as the elected state education commissioner, filed papers Monday to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Castor is married to Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar partner, Sam Bell.

Castor, 62, is the only woman running for the seat now held by Bob Graham and the only Democratic candidate with a political base in Central Florida's I-4 corridor. But her name has not appeared on a ballot since 1990.

"I've got to get started," Castor said. "I've got to beef up the fundraising, and I've got to let people know I'm serious."

Like other Democratic candidates, Castor would drop out of the race if Graham abandons his presidential campaign and seeks re-election. Graham has not definitively ruled out a bid for a fourth term in the Senate.

In announcing her candidacy, Castor noted she is the only candidate who has won a statewide race. She did it twice, in 1986 and 1990, and was the first woman elected to Florida's Cabinet. She announced on Monday the hiring of a campaign treasurer, pollster and campaign consultant.

"She understands what it takes to run statewide. There really is a learning curve to understanding the diversity of this state," said Castor's pollster, David Beattie of Hamilton Beattie and Staff.

Beattie's firm advised both of Graham's campaigns for governor. The firm also handled research and strategy for Democrat Bill Nelson's successful U.S. Senate race in 2000.

At the outset, Castor must play some catchup. Two South Florida Democrats, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, have spent months courting donors and party activists.

Beattie said Castor's candidacy is based on the belief that Deutsch and Penelas will split the South Florida vote. He said the key to winning a Democratic primary statewide is to appeal to moderate Democrats in central and north Florida.

"In a campaign with two people from South Florida, somebody from the I-4 corridor is going to be competitive. It's a given," said Castor's campaign consultant, Linda Hennessee of Effective Strategies of West Palm Beach.

Republican Senate candidates include U.S. Rep. Mark Foley of West Palm Beach and former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum from suburban Orlando, who lost to Nelson in 2000.

Castor got more than 2.2-million votes in 1990, more than any other Democrat on the ticket, as she won re-election as education commissioner over former Gov. Claude Kirk. The Republicans have made tremendous gains in the past decade, and the state's population has grown by more than 25 percent.

Castor left the Cabinet in 1993 to accept the presidency of USF, which she held for six years. In 1999, she became president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She was a state senator from Tampa from 1976-86 and a Hillsborough County commissioner from 1972-76. She is married to Sam Bell, a lobbyist who served in the state House of Representatives.

Castor has begun forming a fundraising committee, but Hennessee said it is too early to announce its members. The campaign will be based in Tampa, where Castor is still registered to vote. The campaign treasurer is Charles Lester, a former state auditor general.
Betty Castor at a glance

Betty Castor was a Hillsborough County commissioner from 1972-76 and a state senator from 1976-86. In 1986 she was elected state education commissioner; she was re-elected in 1990. She was the first woman elected to Florida's Cabinet. In 1993, she left the Cabinet to serve as president of the University of South Florida. In 1999, she became president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

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