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GOP gives toast to county's role in win

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET and ALEX LEARY
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 7, 2002

INVERNESS -- The latest election returns had just come in Tuesday night when burly Charlie Dean scooped up Nancy Argenziano and hoisted the petite senator-elect over his left shoulder, drawing cheers from the crowd of supporters at Coach's Pub & Eatery.

"You've got the big and the beautiful going to Tallahassee!" Dean, 63, the newly elected state representative, crowed in his booming voice.

Argenziano, 47, who broke her foot Saturday night while putting up election signs in Levy County, appreciated the celebratory lift.

In reality, however, it seems both Republican candidates were swept off their feet by Citrus County voters, whose overwhelming support helped Argenziano and Dean clinch their new legislative posts.

"It was absolutely impossible for me to win if Citrus County didn't come through big time," Argenziano said Wednesday. "I've got to thank the people of Citrus County tremendously."

Argenziano unseated state Sen. Richard Mitchell, D-Jasper, with 54.5 percent of the vote in District 3, which runs from Citrus County north to Tallahassee, then east to Baker County.

Mitchell carried nine of the 13 counties in his redrawn district, but Argenziano led in Citrus County 31,787 to 15,670, enough to push her over the top.

"We knew that we were going to lose in Citrus, probably, but we worked to try to minimize it," Mitchell said by cell phone Wednesday from his fishing boat in the Suwannee River.

"We figured if we could stay even in Marion, the other counties might carry us through," Mitchell said. "It didn't work that way. We didn't stay close enough in Marion (Argenziano had 26,393 votes to Mitchell's 17,131) and we lost more in Citrus than we (anticipated). It worked magnificently for those who wanted to draw the (district) lines that way."

That last remark was a reference to the Republican-controlled Legislature, which earlier this year redrew district boundaries. In the newly configured district, the majority of voters were to the south, where Argenziano was strongest.

The House District 43 contest, by contrast, lacked tension from the beginning with insiders from both parties saying Dean's election was a fait accompli.

Dean, who was sheriff for 16 years, cruised to victory in the GOP primary and enjoyed a romp in the general election, easily defeating Democrat Jimmy Carr and Libertarian Neil Polimeni.

Dean gained 64 percent of the vote, taking all but two precincts in the district, which includes all of Citrus and parts of Levy and Hernando counties. Citrus voters chose Dean over Carr in a landslide, 33,629 to 16,088.

"It's not so much a butt-kicking as it was the good voters in the district felt strongly about what we were doing," Dean said Wednesday. "I know a lot of people and people know me. Wherever I go, it's 'Hey, Charlie.' "

Carr tried to make an issue out of Dean's plentiful campaign account, which topped $100,000, and said the contributions from political action committees and voters outside the district would make him beholden to special interest groups. But that point did not seem to resonate with voters.

On Wednesday, Carr acknowledged the political currency of Dean's name. "That wasn't anyone I was running against from Citrus County. He is Mr. Citrus County."

For the first time in six years, Citrus County will have hometown legislators in both chambers.

Argenziano said she will watch out for Citrus County in the Senate, and Dean "will make sure our butts are covered in the House."

The two plan to work together to secure funding for Citrus County projects and introduce constituent bills. "It's an absolute advantage to the district," Dean said. I'm proud to say we've got a team attitude. We're going to get it done."

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