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    Incumbents fare well in races for legislative seats

    ©Associated Press
    September 12, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- All but one of the incumbents facing primary challenges claimed wins in legislative races Tuesday in an election that pitted several lawmakers against each other.

    That one incumbent, a Miami Republican, was in a cliffhanger as Miami-Dade County continued to lag in reporting returns Wednesday.

    With 98 percent of precincts counted, Rep. Renier Diaz de la Portilla, a one-term House member, trailed Juan-Carlos Planas by 109 votes -- 5,143 to 5,034. Manuel "Manny" Alfonso had 1,356.

    All the Senate members who were challenged within their own parties won, including Republicans Charlie Clary of Destin, Bill Posey of Rockledge, Howard Futch of Indialantic and Alex Diaz de la Portilla of Miami. All will return to the Legislature because they have no opposition in the general election in November.

    Clary beat veteran House member Jerry Melvin with 55 percent of the vote in their heated western Panhandle race. Melvin sued the Republican Party over its support of Clary.

    Sen. Mandy Dawson of Fort Lauderdale beat back challenges from two other Democrats and will face independent Fred Segal on Nov. 5.

    A number of current and former House members also succeeded in primary bids for the Senate.

    Among them are former Rep. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, who beat current Rep. Denise Lee, D-Jacksonville; and Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who defeated two other Democrats, Tina Dupree and John Pace.

    In another closely watched South Florida race, former Rep. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, appeared to have beaten four other Democrats for the Senate seat vacated by Daryl Jones, who ran for governor.

    Bullard had 26 percent of the vote Wednesday afternoon, two percentage points ahead of her closest rival, Ron Saunders of Key West, but eight Miami-Dade precincts still hadn't reported results. Former Rep. John F. Cosgrove had 21 percent.

    In a Bradenton area Senate race pitting two Republican House members against each other, Michael Bennett defeated Mark Flanagan with 56 percent of the votes. Bennett now will face Democrat C.J. Czaia.

    In the House, aside from Renier Diaz de la Portilla and a couple of other members who withstood close races, sitting members had little trouble turning back challengers.

    First-term Rep. Stan Jordan was one of the few incumbents with a tough race, beating Jim Tullis by fewer than 350 votes in a rematch for a Jacksonville area House seat. It was a tighter race two years ago when Jordan ousted Tullis by 159 votes.

    Republicans are trying to maintain a 25-15 majority in the Senate and a 77-43 advantage in the House.

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