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    Smith easily defeats Chestnut

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- Gainesville State Attorney Rod Smith easily defeated Rep. Cynthia Chestnut Tuesday night to win the Democratic nomination for a north Central Florida state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. George Kirkpatrick.

    Smith was winning by a substantial margin in the nine-county district that is home to many of the state's prisons.

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    He'll face Republican Rep. Bob Casey of Gainesville in the November general election.

    Smith's margin of victory in Bradford, Union and Columbia counties -- home of many of the state's prison guards -- was substantial despite the fact that he is currently prosecuting the four guards accused of beating inmate Frank Valdes to death last year.

    In two other races, a bitter advertising battle between the state's trial lawyers and business lobbyists appeared to backfire on the trial lawyers.

    Rep. Al Lawson was the top vote getter Tuesday night in the race for a Senate seat held by the late Sen. Pat Thomas of Quincy.

    State Rep. Janegale Boyd was leading former Leon County Sheriff Eddie Boone in a battle for a second-place slot and the right to face Lawson in a runoff.

    Boyd is a Monticello resident who was vehemently attacked in a last-minute barrage of trial lawyer ads that accused her of helping criminals, HMOs and telephone companies that wanted to double consumer rates.

    Lawson, D-Tallahassee, stayed out of the fray between the trial lawyers and Associated Industries of Florida. The winner of the Democratic runoff faces Republican Brett Heuchan in November.

    Across the state, Rep. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, overcame a similar negative campaign waged by trial lawyers and easily defeated Kevin Cannon to win the GOP nomination for a Senate seat being vacated by Senate President Toni Jennings. He'll face Democrat Ron Ellman in November.

    Two prominent legislators who switched parties at the urging of Republicans were losing bids to capture seats in the state Senate Tuesday night.

    Rep. Harry Goode, R-Melbourne, and Rep. Everett Kelly, R-Tavares, were running substantially behind Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, and Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, in races where state GOP officials helped their opponents. Posey will face Democrat Lisa Lombardi in November, and Cowin will face Democrat Leslie Scales.

    Meanwhile, Rep. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, easily defeated Rep. Sharon Merchant of Palm Beach Gardens for a Senate seat being vacated by Sen. William G."Doc" Myers. No Democrat qualified for the race, so Pruitt will be heading to the Senate.

    This year's legislative races involve an unusually high number of House members running against each other for Senate seats because of term limits.

    Fifty-one members of the House and 11 senators were forced out of office this year because of the eight-year limit established by voters in 1992.

    In early returns, Connie Mack, a Fort Lauderdale businessman and son of the U.S. senator, was winning a House seat after raising more than $400,000 in campaign contributions.

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    Lucy Morgan


    From the Times state desk