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    Florida's few races among the keys to House's future

    ©Associated Press
    September 12, 2002

    Florida may have only a few competitive congressional races in November, but the state could help decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the House of Representatives, party officials said after a primary election that produced no surprises.

    The short list of competitive races is unlikely to include the 13th District on the southwest coast, where the most celebrated primary winner, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, coasted to an easy victory Tuesday.

    Harris, a favorite of Republicans for her role in Florida's 2000 presidential recount, won the GOP nomination over a political novice, former television anchorman John C. Hill, by 68 percent to 32 percent.

    She will face another newcomer, lawyer Jan Schneider, who won a four-way Democratic primary with 44 percent, in a strong Republican district. All the candidates there are from Sarasota.

    Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas said the GOP will focus, instead, on the state's two new districts, which bring Florida's total to 25, and on unseating Democratic Rep. Karen Thurman of Dunnellon. Republicans now hold 15 seats, to eight for the Democrats.

    State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville will challenge Thurman after winning the Republican nomination over Lecanto accountant Don Gessner.

    "We are going to do what we need to do to make sure those three races are well-funded and well-structured and well-run, and I believe we will pick those three seats up," Cardenas said Wednesday.

    Florida Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Banfill remained hopeful although redistricting by the Republican-controlled Legislature favors the GOP.

    "I think there might be some surprises out there," Banfill said. "They have reapportioned the state, but they have not reapportioned the issues. This state has a strong independent streak."

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