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    Close race for new seat a surprise

    By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 7, 2002

    DAYTONA BEACH -- Harry Jacobs is amused to hear people refer to the 24th Congressional District as "the Feeney seat."

    One of two new seats in Florida, it was designed for House Speaker Tom Feeney, the ambitious Republican from the Orlando suburbs. The district is filled with new subdivisions north and east of Orlando, as well as the fast-growing neighborhoods east of Daytona Beach. Feeney played a key role in drawing the boundaries (his party has an edge in the district 44-36 percent), but Jacobs, a Democrat, maintains it is not the Republican slam-dunk Feeney wanted.

    The race for the new seat is closer than many people expected. At a fundraiser last week, Feeney portrayed himself as the underdog, thanking contributors "for helping me battle a giant."

    The giant is Jacobs, 5-foot-8, a well-known trial lawyer in Central Florida, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaign ads and says his polls show him only 5 points behind. Political analysts still give Feeney the edge.

    Jacobs, 55, says the government needs to protect Social Security and provide a Medicare drug program. He also says the government needs to be more aggressive in regulating businesses to prevent future Enrons.

    Feeney says he also wants to protect Social Security and help needy seniors buy drugs, but on corporate issues, he has a free market approach. "I believe in markets and competition," he said.

    Much of the campaign has focused on Feeney's ethics.

    One Jacobs ad attacked him for supporting a bill that would have raised local phone rates. Another ad criticizes Feeney's ethics because of his relationship with Yang Enterprises, an Oviedo company that received an $8-million state contract.

    Jacobs has also criticized Feeney for remaining a registered lobbyist while he served in the Legislature. "I don't think it's right, and I don't think it passes the smell test," Jacobs said.

    Feeney, 44, a curly-haired real estate lawyer who has served in the Legislature since 1990, has said he did nothing wrong with Yang and that the bill was an effort to deregulate phone rates.

    "As a whole, Florida consumers would have been immediate beneficiaries," Feeney said.

    Feeney has criticized Jacobs for suing after the 2000 presidential election to prevent thousands of absentee ballots in Seminole County from being counted. Jacobs maintained that Republicans broke the law with the ballots, but Feeney says Jacobs was trying to disenfranchise voters.

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