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House races finish: some nasty, close

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002

CARROLLWOOD -- Northdale lawyer Kevin Ambler and Forest Hills marketing executive Jill Collins were running neck and neck Tuesday night in the Republican House 47 primary, a race that turned increasingly bitter toward the end of the campaign.

On the Democratic side, another lawyer, Michael Steinberg of Carrollwood, forged a small lead over Carrollwood community activist Lynn McGarvey.

The candidates are vying to replace four-term legislator Rob Wallace (R-Carrollwood), leaving because of state-mandated term limits.

Libertarian candidate Rob Schwartzberg will represent that party in the general election.

Ambler said independent voters will decide the general election.

"That independent group has leaned toward the Republican side and I won't give them any reason to do otherwise," he said.

The Republican race was marked by negative ads from Collins. One ridiculed lawyers while another mailing targeted Ambler, questioning his credibility as president for the past seven years of the Northdale Special Taxing District.

Ambler, a major and judge advocate with the Air Force Reserves, lobbed attacks at Collins. He questioned her political independence, noting the contributions she received from business interests outside the Tampa area.

The Democratic primary was cordial. All three candidates pledged to support the winner.

"I think (Democrats) have a good shot depending on how Bill McBride does," Steinberg said. "Our platforms are very similar."

State House District 57

TAMPA -- Early returns Tuesday night showed Faye Culp edging two other candidates in the Republican race for House District 57.

"I'm not going to say until we know for sure, but we're definitely hopeful," Culp said from her campaign headquarters on Neptune Street.

Culp, who held the seat between 1994 and 1998, faced doctor Marcos Lorenzo and former legislative aide Jim Johnson. The winner will face Democrat Scott Farrell and Libertarian Tyson Richmond in November.

Lorenzo, who appeared headed for a second-place finish, said, "I don't count my eggs until they're hatched."

District 57 includes South Tampa and Town 'N Country.

None of the candidates worried that the extended polling hours would affect the outcome -- at least not in their race.

"If anybody goes to the polls (late), it will be Democrats," Johnson said.

Tuesday's winner hopes to replace Chris Hart IV, a one-term Republican who stepped down to spend more time with his family.

Culp, who called it quits in 1998 to run for education commissioner, has an edge in name recognition. But Lorenzo, making his first run for elected office, raised four times as much money.

Until last week, the race was quiet, with all three echoing each other. But it got ugly fast.

First, a group with ties to lawyers slammed Lorenzo in a mass mailing, accusing him of injuring a former patient -- a charge the patient denied. Then a group linked to doctors dropped a negative flier about Culp, calling attention to her votes on class size and abortion.

State House District 67

Bradenton insurance agent Ron Reagan held a comfortable lead in early returns Tuesday night in the race for the Republican nomination for the District 67 seat in the Florida House.

"I've lived in this community for 29 years, I've raised my children here and I feel the votes I'm getting are because of my deep involvement here," Reagan said Tuesday night.

He is running against attorney Steele T. Williams and computer consultant Chester Flake.

The Republican nominee is the favorite to capture the seat for District 67, which covers the eastern parts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Incumbent Mike Bennett ran for a state Senate seat, and no Democrats qualified for the House 67 race. The GOP winner will face Libertarian candidate Ron Stringfield and write-in candidate William Dolinski Jr. in November.

Reagan, 48, said he is proud to represent the conservative philosophy of the president whose name he shares. In his campaign, he vowed to eliminate Florida's intangible tax, to trim waste from state agencies and to fight to retain school vouchers.

The platform of Williams, a 31-year-old Sarasota resident, followed his law specialty: protecting victims of investment fraud. He stressed advocacy for small businesses and economic growth.

Flake, 28, also of Sarasota, joined the District 67 race after his failure to file proper paperwork disqualified him in the race for the District 13 congressional seat sought by Katherine Harris.

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