Winter Park, Fla. - To battle for political control of Florida's 7th U.S. congressional district is to wage a war among vast miles of strip malls, chain eateries, malls and ritzy and often-gated residential enclaves.
On Saturday, Republican U.S. Reps. John Mica and Sandy Adams, both vying for the party nomination for the newly configured northeast Florida district, held matching meet-ups for block walks at Panera Bread restaurants just six miles apart.
"It's my toughest campaign ever," said Mica, a 10-term incumbent, preparing to hit the streets once again to meet his constituents. He's matched the aggressive mailing campaign of Adams, a former deputy sheriff and Air Force enlistee, who was elected to Congress in 2010 after eight years as a state representative.
Mica has also kept up with her onslaught of negative, almost war-like broadcast spots, that accuse Mica for everything from the national debt to supporting higher taxes in neighboring Georgia.
Mica in turn said that President Obama counted on Adams for her vote for the stimulus, even before she was in Congress.
"I've always been very busy during these campaigns," Mica said. "But I'm getting bushwacked."
As chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mica was part of an effort to push through a massive transportation bill, "and she even tried to undermine me on that," claiming he was doing Obama's bidding.
The Adams campaign did not return emails. Campaign spokeswoman Lisa Boothe said only that "Sandy is knocking on doors and working the phones" in response to an interview request.
Without calling himself one, Mica said that "Republican moderates have taken a beating" since the 2010 mid-term Tea Party uprising, claiming a number of seasoned Republicans, including Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who was ousted in May.
Voters this week received robocalls from Sarah Palin, the Tea Party doyenne and Adams endorser who was joined in her support of Adams on Saturday by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"In the race for Congressional District 7, there is one candidate who strongly believes in limited government and is willing to stand up for constitutional principles," Palin says in the call. "And that's Sandy Adams."
Adams was a prolific author of bills during her eight years in the statehouse, successfully filing acts relating to transparency, motor vehicle record retention, security at smaller airports, and the state's judicial system.
Much of Adams' authored legislation, both passed and failed, dealt with a heavier government role in regulation.
In 2004, she filed a bill that would require more onerous inspection of new construction projects, citing the increase of building in the state. The legislation died in committee.
The 2005 bill regarding scrutiny of security plans at general aviation airports targeted smaller facilities, denying them licensing unless they have a security plan that passes muster with the state's Department of Law Enforcement.
In 2006, Adams pushed through a bill that allowed for the withholding of personal information related to requests about who holds a license to carry a firearm. Her legislation required the consent of the license holder or a court order to release the information.
In 2008, Adams introduced a bill that would confer hazardous walking conditions for K-12 students who had to walk by the home of a registered sexual offender whose offenses involved a minor on their way to or from school. The legislation, which was withdrawn before being introduced, would have made the state provide transportation to those affected students.
Mica's legacy has been built on bringing money home, once a sign of Beltway productiveness across the political spectrum but poisoned by the exposure of such things as Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens and his 'bridge to nowhere' in 2005.
Adams has hammered Mica for his profligate use of earmarks, while it has been reported that Mica was among a number of Florida lawmakers who voted against the stimulus and then asked for stimulus funding for district projects.
Mica argues that Adams was a big fan of earmarks during her time in the statehouse, known as community budget issue requests. She made 63 requests totaling $129.5 million, often for the same benefactor. In a couple cases, the person who was asking her for the help was also a campaign donor. Larry Birch at the Grove Counseling Center donated twice to Adams, $250, in 2006 and 2007 - she requested a total of $2.8 million in funds for his counseling center during her time as a state rep.
James Berko from the Seminole Community Mental Health Center in 2008 donated $50 to her campaign, a year after Adams put in his request for $483,591 for additional beds.
Adams' defenders in the Tea Party claim the state's system is simply a budget request that can be easily denied at the upper levels.
"No, it's an earmark," contends Mica campaign spokesman Alan Byrd.
Before heading out to knock on the doors of Republican voters who probably know him, Mica told his staffers and volunteers that these last few days are "the most dangerous time in a campaign."
"They're probably pretty desperate right now," Mica told them. He feared another allegation, another scramble to dissect and spin and, if necessary, correct.
The upside to a mudslinging race in which he has dished it out as well as taken it? "It's helped me secure my base," Mica said.
Steve Miller covers congressional campaigns for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.