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Politics

Republican Bilirakis claims win in bid to succeed father

He had money, history and ideology on his side in the race against Democrat Phyllis Busansky.

By ROBIN STEIN
Published November 8, 2006


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photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Gus Bilirakis holds a microphone Tuesday as son Nicholas sings and wife Eva looks on at a victory party in Tarpon Springs.

With nearly all votes counted Tuesday night, Republican Gus Michael Bilirakis was virtually certain to succeed his father, retiring U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, in House District 9.

In Pasco County, where the race was closest, Bilirakis defeated his Democratic opponent, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky, by less than 2 percent.

But in Pinellas and Hillsborough, his margins were much higher, fueling an elated celebration at a church community center in Tarpon Springs. Hundreds of supporters chanted “Gus! Gus! Gus!” as Bilirakis appeared at the party.

“It’s not my district,” he said. “It’s not my dad’s district. It’s the people’s district, and the people spoke. I can’t wait to get to work.”

A soft-spoken probate attorney from Palm Harbor, the 43-year-old father of four served eight years in the Florida Legislature. Bilirakis describes himself as an open-minded coalition builder and says he intends to address insurance, health care clinics and veterans issues on Capitol Hill.

From the beginning, Bilirakis had history, demographics and ideology on his side. Prominent Republicans who considered running decided against trying to take on his advantages in name recognition and fundraising.

Aided by appearances from President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Bilirakis raised more than $2.5-million.

But the Democratic Party staked its hope on Busansky, 69, making her campaign a priority for national fundraising.

A charismatic policy wonk with a long pedigree in public office, Busansky waged a strong fight, criss-crossing the district, which spans northern Pinellas, western Pasco and suburban Hillsborough counties.

Speaking to supporters at a restaurant in Carrollwood, Busansky did not concede the race Tuesday night, but rather noted that Democratic issues were winning throughout the country.

Busansky’s pledge to change Congress helped her raise $1.5-million and attract nearly 200 volunteers. But Bilirakis sent out mailers warning that Busansky would “bankrupt our values.”

Mike Bilirakis said watching Election Day unfold was “nerve-racking.” Asked what advice he would give his son, he said: “To be his own man.’’

[Last modified November 8, 2006, 06:17:42]


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