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Whistlestops: Karen Castor Dentel vs. Scott Plakon and Linda Stewart vs. Bob Brooks

Two prominent state House races frame the current disparity between left and right

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It's an apparent battle of the sexes in two of the state's most hotly contested legislative races, with the old guard (the men) taking serious heat from their more progressive female opponents. Beneath the obvious binary nature of the campaign battles, though, lies something more important to Florida's perceived – and maligned – character. Can the Republican bait-and-switch of economic issues for social issues withstand a viable challenge? That's up to you and, presumably, God.

Florida House District 30: Karen Castor Dentel vs. Scott Plakon

From the beginning, it was clear that the awkward musical chairs of redistricting would make reelection difficult for veteran social-issues crusader Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. A geographical shift south into Altamonte and into HD-30 managed to save him from a primary fight with longtime friend (and possible future House Speaker) state Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, but that deal with the devil also meant that Plakon would be faced with a more moderate – if not liberal – district; this for a man who has, in four years, never had a general election challenge.

"It's got to be karma," he says, half-jokingly.

Plakon, who has built his political capital upon a history of crusades against abortion rights and sundry other liberal causes, has been forced to the blander plateaus of the middle ground, touting his "across-the-aisle" bona fides in lieu of pulpit-ready treatises against rampant liberalism. He's the man behind Amendment 8's volley to allow public funding of religious institutions, after all, and he's still willing to "swear on his electronic Bible" (an iPhone app) when such duty calls. But he wants voters to know he's more than that.

"Most people would agree that I'm an effective legislator," he says. "I don't know how anybody would say that I haven't worked across the line."

As examples, Plakon points to a new anti-stalking bill (in effect since Oct. 1) and a bill streamlining of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation – not exactly the hot-buttons he's become accustomed to. "Jobs and the economy, how we get people back to work, that's what people are interested in talking about," Plakon says.

That kind of political gamesmanship doesn't sit well with Maitland teacher Karen Castor Dentel. The Democratic daughter of former state Sen. Betty Castor, D-Tampa, has taken to the airwaves to denounce Plakon's "crazy" extremism just as he attempts to shield himself from it. Though she's a moderate – "I'm not anti-Republican," she says – Dentel's ringing liberal bells with her denunciation of Plakon's support for the vast education cuts hobbling the state, in addition to raising red flags about imminent privatization concerns for schools. She's also been quick to pounce on the Republican tendency to incentivize big business ventures without the necessary accountability.

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