7 vying for redrawn District 6 seat


ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – It's been described as one of the liveliest congressional races in the state of Florida.

The recently redrawn District 6, which starts in northern St. Johns County and continues into parts of Volusia County, has a whopping seven Republicans and two Democrats vying for the seat.

If fundraising determines front-runners, then the candidate to beat is attorney Ron DeSantis. The former Navy JAG officer from Ponte Vedra has no legislative experience and is running for office for the first time, but in fundraising, he's leading the pack by a wide margin.

Through June, DeSantis has raised more than $400,000 and has received some national endorsements from former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who is a Tea Party favorite, and even Donald Trump.

"I don't run as the front-runner at all," DeSantis said. "I think a lot of people when I got into the race said, 'He doesn't have the ability to do this or that.' We've proven them wrong every step of the way."

DeSantis said the opponent he's most concerned about is former Ormond Beach Mayor Fred Costello. Costello is a state representative, was a two-term mayor and is a well-known name in Volusia County.

"I think people value my record of service," Costello said. "I have not trashed any other candidates. I have not said one word about another candidate until they have talked about me, and I will defend my record."

However, financial records show he hasn't raised as much money, at nearly $97,000.

The candidate who's come closest to matching DeSantis in funds is Jacksonville City Councilman Richard Clark. Clark doesn't live in the district but grew up in St. Johns County.

Through June, he's raised more than a quarter-million dollars. He's received endorsements from the Northeast Builders Association and the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors.

Clark likes to hand out tiny Clark Bars to potential voters.

"I don't go after the national endorsements. I don't go after the guys who aren't here," he said. "The people who know us best are the builders, the Realtors and all of the people that are local."

Craig Miller, the CEO of Ruth's Chris Steak House, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010. Last year, he entered the race for the U.S. Senate, then changed his mind and switched to the House race instead.

The 62-year-old has been endorsed by former presidential candidate Herman Cain and former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. He touts the fact he's not a politician.

"I'm not sure holding political office is a qualification for someone running to represent other people," Miller said. "I bring a different perspective to this race. Clearly, I'm a business man, a job creator."

The only woman in the Republican field is St. Johns County School Board member Beverly Slough.

Slough has served on the School Board for 10 years. She's been endorsed by school board members, St. Johns County commissioners and former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. She calls her campaign a grassroots organization.

Like Costello, she will not sign a "no new taxes" pledge, a stance she admits could cost her votes.

"It is a gamble with conservative, however, in a static thing, if we knew that things would be like there are right this minute forever, I could probably sign that pledge," Slough said. "But I'm a woman of my word and I believe in being true to the things that I say. Were I to sign that pledge and then some catastrophic event happen where we have to raise taxes, I would hate to go back on my word."

The winner of the Republican primary will take on the winner of the Democratic primary -- Heather Beaven or Vipin Verma -- in the general election in November.

The numbers, however, show this district is a Republican stronghold. Rick Scott, when he was running for governor in 2010, trounced the Democratic candidate, Alex Sink, in that part of the state.