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    Win sends Carassas to House

    With no Democrat on the ballot in November, all voters could participate in the Republican District 54 runoff.

    [Times photo: Jill Sagers]
    John Carassas celebrates after hearing the results of the House District 54 Republican runoff Tuesday night. Carassas' victory gives him the House seat, because no Democrat entered the race. Term limits forced Rep. Dennis Jones to leave office after 22 years.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2000


    John Carassas cruised by fellow Republican Dave Miller with 56.5 percent of the vote in Tuesday's runoff election to become the next representative for state House District 54.

    Because there is no Democrat in the November election, Carassas was elected.

    "I think it's a clear message from the voters in District 54 of the type of representative they want, and I'm proud to serve them," said Carassas from his victory party at the Clearwater Beach Days Inn.

    The race had been considered a tight one. Miller bested Carassas in the first primary by only 134 votes.

    "We figured it would be just as close this second time around," Carassas said.

    As a result, both Republican candidates crisscrossed the district and encouraged people to vote because they expected a low voter turnout.

    Voters in 46 precincts mostly along Pinellas County's western coastline picked between two first-time candidates in the runoff, which was open to all registered voters.

    Carassas, 34, said he was pleased that more than 9,400 voters went to the polls, posting an 11.27 percent voter turnout. Those numbers were higher than previous second primaries in Pinellas County races.

    About 20 percent of the county's voters turned out for the Sept. 5 primary, with about 23 percent of District 54 voters casting their ballots.

    In 1998, 8.3 percent of voters cast a ballot in the runoff, while 8.8 percent did so in 1994.

    Carassas credited his hard work and a solid campaign for putting him over the top.

    "We did everything we planned on doing in the campaign, and I think the voters spoke today," he said.

    But Miller, 56, couldn't help but think that negative campaign literature distributed by a consumer advocacy group hurt his effort in the last days of the campaign. The literature, mailed last weekend, tied Miller, a retired Florida Power Corp. executive, to future utility rate increases, among other issues.

    Miller said he worked hard to run a positive campaign.

    "Positive evidently doesn't win," he said.

    Still, he made a point of saying his was not a case of sour grapes. "I ran a positive campaign. He won, and congratulations to him," Miller said.

    Miller said he is going to play golf and go to his North Carolina home, where he can sit in a rocking chair on his porch. He also will continue to be active in the community.

    For his part, Carassas said he was not aware of the literature and it did not come from his campaign. Moreover, he added, he found it hard to believe that one mailing could wreck havoc on a campaign.

    "I only know the name of the consumer advocacy group, but I don't know who they are, and I don't know who they represent," Carassas said.

    Carassas said he is looking forward to spending time with his newborn daughter. Later, he will turn his attention to forming his staff for his office in Tallahassee, where he will succeed Rep. Dennis Jones, the Republican who is being forced out of office by term limits after 22 years.

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