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    District redrawing may have made race tougher for GOP

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

    HEATHROW -- Riding up Interstate 4 in a Buick LeSabre, Rep. John Mica points out the monuments to his 10-year tenure in Congress -- a bridge, new lanes and several interchanges.

    "This is an interchange I worked nine years on," he said. "It's a milestone in transportation here because it gives you a route around Orlando. Everywhere you go in this district, you see stuff we've done."

    As a senior member of the House Transportation Committee, the Winter Park Republican has brought home the asphalt. But with a revamped congressional district that stretches to St. Augustine and includes thousands of voters he has not represented before, Mica is facing a serious challenge to win re-election.

    Democratic nominee Wayne Hogan, a Jacksonville trial lawyer who earned $54-million in Florida's tobacco settlement, is willing to spend a good chunk of his fortune to get elected.

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Palm Harbor Republican who helped draw the new congressional lines, says he's concerned the race will be close because Mica ended up with more Democrats in his district to appease House Speaker Tom Feeney, who wanted a safer shot at Congress from the adjacent district.

    The biggest issue in the campaign is Mica's vote last year in favor of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola. The rest of the Florida delegation voted no.

    Mica says he has always opposed drilling within 100 miles of the Florida coast and supported a compromise that was later adopted. But he also says companies need to tap the gulf's natural gas to meet the state's appetite for energy.

    "I haven't seen too much natural gas wash up on the beaches," Mica said.

    His vote didn't stir up much controversy because his suburban Orlando district was largely inland. But his new district has three times as much coastline.

    Hogan said, "I don't understand how anybody can conceive that it's a good idea to drill off the shores of Florida."

    Mica has said little about his opponent, because he doesn't want to boost Hogan's name recognition. "I'm going to try to keep positive," Mica said.

    Driving through St. Augustine in a Chevy Tahoe with a kayak on the roof (the kayak has a Hogan for Congress sticker), Hogan, 55, offers a stark contrast from the starched white shirts and business suits that Mica wears. Hogan wears a casual dress shirt, and slacks and his face is rugged from many hours of fishing.

    He loves to surf. "I'll sneak out around daybreak if there are decent waves."

    Hogan acknowledges Mica has been effective building highways but says he hasn't done enough for Social Security or Medicare.

    "Too many people in Congress don't care about protecting the health and well-being of the average person," he said. "I'm focused on average folks."

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