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House race grows in ferocity in final days

Mailers strike hard as Frank Farkas and Margo Fischer battle over state House District 52 in

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- With just a week to go before the election, the race for a St. Petersburg state House seat has turned harsh, and expensive.

Republican Frank Farkas and Democrat Margo Fischer are peppering mailboxes in District 52 with hard-hitting mailers as they fight once again for the seat that Fischer lost to Farkas two years ago.

The state Republican Party sent a piece, with Farkas' approval, that slams Fischer for purportedly being soft on crime. It has a photo of a burglar coming in a window wielding a crowbar.

"If Margo Fischer gets back into the House ... who will fight to protect yours?" the piece asks.

It is the second negative Farkas mailing to go to St. Petersburg homes in the past two weeks. Farkas calls it fair criticism of Fischer's voting record as a state representative.

Fischer said her opponent is running a negative campaign because he fears losing.

"It appears that he is very nervous about where he is if he's attacking me so negatively so early," Fischer said.

Fischer has not exactly turned the other cheek.

She sent out a mailing arriving at some homes Monday that features a roll of $100 bills and hits Farkas for taking money from political action committees and industry groups.

Farkas, who has raised an eye-popping $210,000, said it is ironic that Fischer would criticize him for taking money from some of the same groups that contributed to her campaign when she held the seat two years ago.

"I think it's kind of humorous that it's special interest money when I take it, but not when she takes it," Farkas said.

Campaign finance reports through mid October show Farkas has spent more than half of the money he has raised. Most of it has gone to his political consultant, cable television advertising and direct mail.

Fischer, who has raised $125,000, has spent about $45,000, with most of her expenses centering on brochures and postage.

Mary Repper, a political consultant who is not involved in either campaign this election cycle, said the amount of money both candidates have raised for a state House race is astounding. During the 1998 race for the seat between the same two candidates, Farkas raised $68,000, and Fischer raised $178,000.

Repper, who worked on Fischer's campaign two years ago, said voters should expect to see a lot of hard-hitting, last-minute mail pieces.

"Obviously, the more negative they go, the more scared they are that they're in trouble," Repper said.

The mailing from Farkas and the state Republican Party cites votes Fischer cast when she held the seat for a two-year term ending in 1998. Among other things, it says she voted against legislation that would keep burglars from suing homeowners if they are injured while committing a crime.

Fischer called the statement unfair. She said the bill was wide-ranging and also would have hurt consumers, keeping them from suing the tobacco industry, or other companies that harm them.

"I voted against the tort reform issue overall," she said. "There was a lot of bad stuff in there. It was heavily weighted against the consumer."

Farkas said he did not think the mailing was overly critical.

"I don't think it's harsh," Farkas said. "It's a part of her public safety record. Her votes are her votes. We didn't make up anything."

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