If nothing else, know that: Betty Castor is the Democratic candidate to replace Bob Graham as Florida's co-representative in the United States Senate. A more detailed profile follows.

Betty is a little lady with a big attitude. Even though she's in her sixties now, you can tell that there's a vivacious streak in her. When she was growing up in Glassboro, New Jersey, she would go on American Bandstand in Philadelphia and be part of Dick Clark's famous Roll Call, screaming "I'm Betty from Glassboro!" alongside all the other Girls of the American Decade.

She left Glassboro after college, traveling to Africa and becoming a teacher in Uganda, where she played on the national field hockey team and led the first all-female expedition to the summit of Kilimanjaro. (Years later, she would get into a fight with a bartender on a secluded Bahamian island after learning that he had worked with Idi Amin.)

Upon returning to the United States, Castor enrolled at the University of Miami, graduating with an M.Ed. in 1968 and moving to Tampa. After teaching for a few years, she dove into politics, winning a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in 1972 and entering the Florida Senate in 1976. By 1985, she was its president, one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state: the following year, she became Education Commissioner under Governor Bob Graham.

Graham, however, did not last forever, and Castor eventually found herself temporarily unemployed... until 1994, when she was chosen to become president of the University of South Florida. And then, just when her career couldn't get any hotter, she became President of the National Board of Teaching Standards in 1999.

So that's where her story let off, until 2003. Bob Graham, who had since become a U.S. senator, decided to run for President of the United States of America. He choked early on, calling it quits in October when he realized that everyone really wanted Howard Dean (this was not, of course, enough to stop John Kerry). And then, in a previously unthinkable move, he also decided not to run for re-election to the Senate.

And so the floodgates opened.

As of this writing, there are enough candidates in the Florida Senate race to have a Donkeys-Elephants baseball game. But Betty stands out--not just because of her resume, but also because of her statewide popularity. No other Democrat polls as highly as she does: her closest rivals for the nomination, Peter Deutsch and Alex Penelas, can barely bring their names past the Gold Coast. And in hypothetical matches against Republican front-runners Bill McCollum and Mel Martinez, Betty wins, albeit by narrow margins.

For the national Democratic establishment, all eyes have been on candidates like Inez Tenenbaum and Barack Obama, nominees who have a good chance at eroding Republican control of the upper house of Congress. But Betty is making an inroads there, too. Her campaign is starting to attract powerful 527's that bring with them big money for a big war chest. In the first quarter of 2004, her fundraising outpaced both Penelas and Deutsch (dramatically, when you account for the fact that Deutsch gave himself half a million dollars). EMILY's List, a major pro-choice group in Washington, lists Betty as its most important candidate to support. Janet Reno endorses her.

Betty is full of surprises, too. Her husband, a partner in a big Tampa law firm, loves to talk about their experience fighting off pirates in the Bahamas. And Betty loves to tell her own little story, about being shoved into a wintry Gulf of Mexico and surfacing next to a manatee and her calf, right below the waiting lens of a Tampa Tribune photographer. (The photo made the front page, as you might expect.)

She has style, she has backing, and let's face it... she's got the boom-boom. And as one of her former employees, I hope she makes it, because I would love to have such a cool friend on Capitol Hill. She might even be persuaded to take on Bill Frist in a cage match.

Anyway, Betty won the Democratic primary on August 31, 2004. The last person standing between her and the Senate is former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. A Bush ally.

He will die.


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