Fending off the toughest challenge of his 20-year congressional career, U.S. Rep. John Mica easily defeated fellow U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams on Tuesday in a rare primary election pitting two sitting members of Congress against each other.
Mica, R-Winter Park, jumped out to a 60-to-40 percent lead over Adams, R-Orlando, almost from the moment the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday. He was never challenged as he won the Republican nomination in Florida's Seventh Congressional District, which encompasses most of Seminole County and parts of Orange and Volusia counties.
The victory likely assures Mica, 69, another term in Congress, as the suburban Orlando district tilts Republican and the Democratic Party failed to recruit a top-tier challenger. Jason Kendall, a social-media sales manager, was on track to win the largely anonymous Democratic primary.
The Mica-Adams contest was the highest-profile race on an Election Day that lacked a compelling top of the ticket. Both of the candidates in this year's U.S. Senaterace, incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and GOP challenger Connie Mack IV, faced only token opposition in their respective primaries.
But thanks to the once-a-decade redistricting process, the election did have quantity, as candidates across Florida campaigned for new or -- as in Mica and Adams' case -- redrawn seats, some of which were made more competitive by anti-gerrymandering reforms.
The statewide scramble contributed to a surge in early voting. More than 1 million people cast primary votes at early voting polling places or via absentee ballots, up 350,000 from 2008 despite five fewer days of early voting this year.
In Seminole County, Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said roughly 13,500 people had cast Election Day ballots by 2:30 p.m. -- putting the county on pace to exceed the total 16,000 votes cast on the day of the 2008 primary. And that was on top of early and absentee voting that was double four years ago, he said.
But in Orange County, not even a heated state attorney race between incumbent Lawson Lamar and challenger Jeff Ashton could get Election Day turnout above 10 percent in most precincts. Supervisor Bill Cowles said overall turnout was just more than 17 percent.
The Mica-Adams clash was one of the most closely watched Republican primaries in the country, as it became another front in the national battle over the direction of the GOP.
"They said that this race was about the heart and soul of the Republican Party," a jubilant Mica told supporters. "And I'm here to tell you tonight that the heart and soul of the Republican Party is doing fine here in Central Florida."
Mica, the influential chairman of the House transportation committee with a history of bipartisan deal-making, represented the party's senior leadership while Adams, a freshman catapulted to Congress amid the tea party-fueled wave of 2010, was the uncompromising anti-government-spending crusader.
Celebrating with supporters over chicken wings in Casselberry, Mica, R-Winter Park, attributed his victory to his long track record in the community that includes winning hundreds of millions of dollars for local projects, funding everything from the simulation industry to Interstate 4 improvements.
"I think it's a proven conservative record. Everywhere we went, people knew what we had done," Mica said in an interview. "We had positively affected lives for 20 years."
It helped that Mica outspent Adams more than two-to-one during the campaign. Mica raised more than $1.6 million, much of it from people and businesses with an interest in federal transportation policy and infrastructure spending, from Delta Air Lines to FedEx to CSX. He also won endorsements from virtually every Republican mayor in Orange and Seminole counties.
Adams, by contrast, loaned $100,000 to her own campaign and raised less than $900,000 from donors, relying heavily on grassroots volunteers and out-of-state endorsements from the likes of former Alaska Gov. and 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Adams, 55, a former state legislator and deputy sheriff, was also an imperfect torchbearer for the tea party movement. She repeatedly flogged Mica for supporting the SunRail commuter rail project -- which Adams labeled a "$1.2 billion boondoggle" -- despite twice voting for the project herself.
"I am a firm believer in one door closes and one door opens up," said a subdued Adams. "Let's focus on November," she added. "You'll see me out there fighting very hard for the Romney-Ryan ticket." With little to separate the two Republican lawmakers on specific issues, the race devolved largely into personal attacks over issues such as securing public money for so-called "earmarks" or taking taxpayer- or lobbyist-funded foreign trips.
Each tried to tie President Obama to the other. In one television commercial, Adams played clips of Obama praising Mica at a bill-signing ceremony. In another ad, Mica claimed Obama "depended" on Adams to support his economic stimulus package because she voted for state budgets that included stimulus funding.
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)