District 9 Race Shapes Up as a Classic

District 9

Democrat Phyllis Busansky and Republican Gus Bilirakis are vying to represent nearly a half-million registered voters in Congressional District 9.

And University of South Florida Political Science Professor Susan MacManus says their campaigns represent a classic contest between grassroots organizing and the power of a national party machine. That was never more evident than September 21st.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Gus has made his position clear, and so have I, we're going to let you keep more of your own money.

When President Bush stopped by Tampa for a couple of hours to raise money for Bilirakis.

BILIRAKIS: I'm proud to stand on this stage with the president just as my father stood with the president's father in 1982 during his first run for Congress.

At $1000 a head - the event raised nearly a half-million dollars for the Republican state representative.

But at the same hour Bilirakis was sharing the stage with President Bush, the Democratic candidate Busansky was buying lunch for about 30 homeowners whose property insurance had increased by $1000 or more.

BUSANSKY: This is just real people, real people talking about real issues. The president and my opponent are not talking about home insurance and these people are all getting hit hard.

Busansky's campaign has collected the names of hundreds of dissatisfied voters - thorough detachable post cards - from her campaign flyer on property insurance.

That grassroots approach has attracted many independent voters like Shawna Plunkett of Wesley Chapel who attended the Busansky luncheon.

PLUNKETT: My husband just started his own business and he builds homes so his insurance was so ridiculously overpriced and then of course our insurance increased since last year. But between those two coverages we spend over three months' salary on insurance.

USF Professor MacManus noted that unlike other political races this season the campaign ads in District 9 are far less caustic. She called the TV ad featuring Bilirakis' children charming.


And MacManus thinks voters will appreciate the humor in Busansky's nickname.


While more informative than a 30-second TV ad, candidate debates get far less notice according to MacManus.

With just a week left before the election, the District 9 candidates participated in their first and only face-to-face debate where they got to question each other. That's where Bilirakis pressed Busansky on tax cuts.

BILIRARKIS: Phyllis will you pledge to make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent which means the child tax. Would you want to keep that? Would you want to keep elimination of themarriage penalty which we have now which we have to make permanent. Will you make these taxes which help our good citizens permanent if you get elected to Congress?

BUSANSKY: Anything that helps people with their children, anything I would support.

BILIRAKIS: So you would make them permanent?

BUSANSKY: Yes. But, I would not make permanent the tax cut for the very rich. I absolutely do not


BUSANSKY: could I finish?

BILIRAKIS: Sure, I'm sorry.

BUSANSKY: I absolutely do not believe in that. Middle class working families need help. But, tax cuts for the very rich in a time of war, in a time where our deficit is out of control? Why in the world would you possibly favor something like that?

In turn, Busansky grilled Bilirakis on his TV ad attacked her voting record on taxes that included a $1 fee for dog leashes at animal shelters. She said the ad trivialized major issues like the Iraq War and property insurance.

BUSANSKY: My question is what was the dog - the $1 tax for? Leash, leash $1 and it was a good deal if I remember correctly because it was to save animals and to encourage people to the animal shelter.

BILIRAKIS: I don't believe

BUSANSKY: What was it for?

BILIRAKIS: I don't believe people want any kind of a tax on dog leashes. That's my answer to that question.

Bilirakis is an attorney and has served eight years in the Florida House.

Busansky is a former Hillsborough County Commissioner and once headed up the state's work to welfare program.

The district's make up is 41% Republican, 34% Democrat with 25% of the voters non-affiliated or belong to a third party.

The Congressional Quarterly characterizes the district as leaning Republican . MacManus says it would be tough - but the Democrats have a slim chance of winning the seat.

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