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    Russell, Williams appear likely to advance


    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


    Complete election coverage is one click away

    With Hernando County votes counted, incumbent Rep. David Russell appeared to be easily winning the more than 50 percent he needed to avoid a runoff election in his three-way District 44 House of Representative Republican primary.

    Gregory Williams, meanwhile, was beating his only opponent, Diane TeStrake, in the Democratic primary.

    Though results were incomplete in the other counties in the district -- Pasco, Polk, Lake and Sumter -- both Russell and Williams felt confident enough to claim victory.

    "We just took it to the people," Williams said of himself and his campaign workers. "We went out and listened to them and put their issues on the front burner."

    Russell said polls conducted three weeks ago predicted he would win 60 percent of the vote, almost precisely what he received in Hernando County.

    "We showed a strong lead, but polls are just a snapshot of the day," he said, and pointed out that as a challenger two years ago, he was well behind in polls just weeks before the election.

    "We've been working extremely hard in the last three weeks."

    The results came after two strikingly different campaigns.

    The Republican primary was aggressive and, at some points, unfriendly.

    Nicholson, a civil engineer from Brooksville, called Russell "a sheep" for his voting record, which differed from the wishes of House leaders only three times, Nicholson said.

    Russell's votes, he said, compromised the environment and didn't do enough to improve education or help retirees pay for health care.

    DeVito also criticized Russell's lack of independence in a series of hard-edged billboards and signs.

    Russell, with support from political action committees all over the state, was able to pay for a series of mailers and large newspaper advertisements. In these, he touted legislation he passed to establish a committee to study nursing home reform.

    TeStrake, an associate dean at the University of South Florida, was supported and encouraged in the race by the Florida Democratic Party. Despite this, she and Williams were careful not to criticize one another.

    TeStrake, who has lived in Florida more than 50 years, and who worked for most of her career as a biology professor, said she was particularly aware of the need to protect the environment.

    In a written release, she commended Williams for "running a fair and positive race. I wish him the best of luck and offer my full cooperation to help him win the District 44 seat."

    Williams shared TeStrake's opinion that the state's schools did not receive enough money in last year's budget. He also advocated increasing funding for the Florida Highway Patrol.

    Russell said he was looking forward to a less antagonistic race in the general election.

    "I think it will be more based on the issues," he said.

    "Assuming Gregory Williams wins, he seems to be a gentleman."

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