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Democrats capture two key contests

Published November 8, 2006


SARASOTA - On a night when Democrats seemed poised to benefit from widespread frustration with the country's Republican leadership, Florida voters sent a mixed message to candidates in three hotly-contested Congressional races.

In South Florida's 16th District, where Republican Mark Foley resigned in disgrace a month before the election, Democrat Tim Mahoney edged ahead of Foley's last-minute replacement, Joe Negron.

"People in this election are saying a very clear message and I hope Washington listens," Mahoney said. "We are sick and tired of partisan fights. I'll work with Democrats, I'll work with Republicans. I'll work with liberals and conservatives. Hell, I'll work with Dick Cheney, if I don't have to go hunting with him."

In the 22nd District, which stretches along Broward and Palm Beach counties, Democrat Ron Klein beat 26-year veteran Republican congressman Clay Shaw by a comfortable four-point margin.

"We're very excited," said Klein as he entered the victory celebration. "The big thing now is that the people who get elected need to roll up their sleeves and get the job done."

In the 13th District seat vacated by Katherine Harris, Republican Vern Buchanan declared victory early Wednesday, but with a margin of just 368 votes over Democrat Christine Jennings , the race appeared headed for an automatic recount. Florida law dictates a recount for any race decided by less than one-half of 1 percent.

President Bush won the district by nearly 10 percentage points in 2004, yet polls this fall showed that 60 percent of voters there saw the country heading in the wrong direction, creating a close race for a Republican businessman running in a traditionally conservative district.

"He ran a campaign on the issues, and his stance on the issues resonated with the voters," said Sally Tibbetts, Buchanan's press secretary. Jennings' campaign said early Wednesday that its priority was to make sure every vote is counted.

In District 16, the 50-year-old Mahoney was initially viewed as having little chance for a victory against Foley, the popular incumbent. But when Foley resigned over his scandalous messages with male congressional pages, the race blew wide open.

Negron, a 45-year-old state representative from Stuart, faced an uphill battle: his name wasn't even on the ballot because Foley's resignation came in too late, which meant that a vote for Foley on the ballot was really a vote for Negron.

In the 22nd District, seen as a bellwether for the state, Democrat Klein attacked Shaw as too closely tied to the Republican leadership. Despite a strong party-line voting record in Congress, Shaw appealed to moderate voters stressing his independence from President Bush.

"I don't know what more we could have done," said Shaw after polls closed.

In District 13, Buchanan, a car dealer who poured $5.5 million of his own money into his campaign, ran as a strong supporter of President Bush who would be tough on terrorism and illegal immigration and push for low taxes. Jennings, who once was Buchanan's banker, stressed her fiscal conservatism.

[Last modified November 8, 2006, 06:28:56]

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