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Crist has slight lead on Castor

By TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


TAMPA -- With Florida Republicans striving to retain their majority in the state Senate, GOP candidate Victor Crist took an early lead in his bruising battle against Democrat Kathy Castor for Senate District 13.

The race was tightening as the night wore on.

Watching the results from the presidential suite at the Double Tree Hotel, Crist said he was confident of victory and ready for the challenge of serving in the Senate.

"I think the people today have shown they want performance, not promises," Crist said. "I'm excited. I'm looking forward to getting back into office and working on projects in the Legislature to make Florida a better place.

"Castor is a fine lady. I respect her and her family. I hold no ill feeling toward my opponent."

Castor, staying optimistic, said it was still too early to concede defeat.

"I think he's in a good position now, but we'll see," Castor said.

Theirs was a hotly contested campaign marked by accusations of lying and mudslinging. At one point, Castor demanded that local TV stations stop airing an ad in which Crist accused her former law firm of representing nursing homes "guilty of the largest Medicare fraud in history."

In turn, Crist accused Castor of launching an eleventh-hour TV ad campaign that not only distorted his legislative record, but caused his facial features to appear "demonic."

Together, both candidates spent more than $500,000 on advertising, including contributions from both parties, underscoring the high stakes in this important race. They are vying for the seat being vacated by Republican state Sen. John Grant of Carrollwood, who is leaving office because of term limits.

Senate District 13 covers South Tampa, northwest Hillsborough county and parts of Pasco county.

Both parties are fighting for control of the Legislature and see Senate 13 as a key battleground in that effort. Republicans control 25 of the 40 seats in the Senate. Eleven seats are on the line in this election.

Only a handful of Florida's Senate races have gotten the kind of party support these two campaigns have received.

In Castor, the Democrats had their hopes riding on a 34-year-old land use lawyer with a well-known family name. Castor's father is retired county Judge Don Castor, and her mother is Betty Castor, former state education commissioner and former president of the University of South Florida, a trailblazer in local politics.

Castor hoped to make education a winning theme. She also vowed to improve the relationship between doctors and patients and to focus on growth management.

With Crist, the Republicans backed an eight-year member of the state House known for being both tough on crime and devoted to revitalizing one of the poorest parts of Hillsborough, the area around USF.

His campaign revolved around emphasizing his past results with a promise to continue the work he had begun in the state Legislature.

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