ByÂ Jason GarciaÂ and Mark K. Matthews, Orlando Sentinel
Fending off the toughest challenge of his 20-year congressional career, U.S. Rep.Â John MicaÂ easilydefeated fellow U.S. Rep.Â Sandy AdamsÂ 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 heÂ wonÂ the Republican nomination in Florida’s Seventh Congressional District, which encompasses most ofÂ Seminole Countyand parts of Orange and Volusia counties.
TheÂ victoryÂ likely assures Mica, 69, another term in Congress, as the suburbanÂ OrlandoÂ district tilts Republican and theÂ Democratic PartyÂ failed to recruit a top-tier challenger.Â Jason Kendall, a social-media sales manager, was on track toÂ winÂ the largely anonymous Democratic primary.
The Mica-Adams contest was the highest-profileÂ raceÂ on an Election Day that lacked a compelling top of the ticket. Both of the candidates in this year’sÂ U.S. SenateÂ race, incumbent DemocratÂ Bill NelsonÂ andGOPÂ challengerÂ Connie MackÂ 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 â€” as in Mica and Adams’ case â€” 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. â€” 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.
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.
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 theÂ tea party-fueled wave of 2010, was the uncompromising anti-government-spending crusader.
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, fromÂ Delta Air LinesÂ toÂ FedExÂ 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.
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