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Republicans make gains in skirmish for 83 seats


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Republicans appeared to gain ground in the state Legislature Tuesday, despite a strong push from Democrats to claim open seats.

Term limits forced out 51 members of the House and 11 members of the Senate, creating an unprecedented number of legislative choices this year.

Winning is especially important this year since the party that controls lawmaking will redraw the lines for all of the state's legislative and congressional districts in 2002. Republicans have controlled the Florida Legislature since 1996.

The two parties were going head to head in 72 House races and 11 Senate races as returns trickled in from precincts where heavy voting left some people in line still waiting to cast ballots after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

Party leaders said the intensity of this year's campaigns is not likely to be repeated again. Both parties pledged Tuesday to seek reforms in the way soft money is raised and spent before another election rolls around.

In a year of record breaking spending, the two parties focused on a handful of open races, including several in the Tampa Bay area.

In early returns Rep. Victor Crist, R-Temple Terrace, was leading Kathy Castor, a Democrat who is the daughter of former University of South Florida President Betty Castor.

Rep. Les Miller, D-Tampa, held a substantial lead over Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg. Republicans had hoped to make Bradley the first black Republican elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.

Only two Senate seats appeared to be switching parties: a Republican seat held by Sen. George Kirkpatrick, R-Gainesville, appeared to be going to State Attorney Rod Smith, a Democrat who was defeating Rep. Bob Casey, R-Gainesville.

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, was defeating Democrat Lisa Lombardi for a seat now held by Sen. Patsy Kurth, D-Malabar.

That would leave the Republicans with a 25-15 majority in the Senate. Ten of the 13 Senate races on the ballot Tuesday will go to former House members who left because of term limits to seek positions in the upper chamber.

In South Florida, Rep. Debby Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale, was leading Democrat John Gillespie for a Senate seat vacated by veteran Sen. Jim Scott, R-Fort Lauderdale.

Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas was holding on to hope in the Casey-Smith race, saying that Casey delivered more than 5,000 babies in the district, mostly to mothers who were Democrats.

The Republicans spent more than $12-million on legislative races this year, Cardenas said.

Democrat Party Chairman Bob Poe said he could not even guess how much Democrats spent. "But it's got to be a record for both parties," Poe said. "There were so many critical races that were doable for us."

In North Florida, Rep. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, was headed to an easy victory over Rep. DeeDee Ritchie, D-Pensacola, for the Senate seat vacated by Senate Dean W.D. Childers, R-Pensacola, who was forced out by term limits. Childers won a seat on the Escambia County Commission.

In Tallahassee, Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, easily won against Republican Brecht Heuchan.

The only two incumbent senators on Tuesday's ballot -- Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, and Tom Rossin, D-West Palm Beach -- were winning re-election by comfortable margins.

In House races, Republicans appeared to be picking up at least three seats, increasing a majority that already is overwhelming. The only incumbent who got a serious scare was Rep. Allen Trovillion, R-Winter Park, an outspoken advocate on prison reform issues. Trovillion won re-election over Democrat Alana Brenner.

Three other incumbent members of the House -- Reps. Bev Kilmer, R-Quincy, Annie Betancourt, D-Miami, and Bill Andrews, R-Del Ray Beach -- were also in tight races.

In the Fort Lauderdale area, Connie Mack, son of the retiring U.S. senator by the same name, was leading Democrat Kevin J. Rader in early returns.

-- Times researcher Stephanie Scruggs contributed to this report.

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