Democrats have a strong showing in Florida House races

Republican Peter Nehr unseated in District 65

Democrat Carl Zimmermann is the "perennial candidate" no more.

Zimmermann defeated three-term incumbent Republican state Rep. Peter Nehr in northern Pinellas County's District 65, avenging losses to Nehr in 2006 and 2008, according to unofficial results Tuesday night.

Zimmermann, a journalism teacher at Countryside High School, beat Nehr 53 to 47 percent, finally pushing through after two narrow defeats.

"I'm the dog that finally caught the car, except I think I know what to do with it," said Zimmermann, 61, who also lost a run for state House in 1992.

The loss will mark the end of Nehr's six-year run in the state House. The 60-year-old former Tarpon Springs city commissioner, who had a $224,000 to $48,000 fundraising advantage over Zimmermann, according to campaign filings, did not return a call for comment Tuesday night.

There was no love lost between the opponents during their third battle for state House.

Zimmermann highlighted Nehr's two bankruptcies and other troubles, while Nehr's campaign ran television ads claiming Zimmermann supports a state income tax. (Zimmermann says he doesn't.) Nehr derisively called his opponent the "perennial candidate."

Unlike the first two races, though, this one ended with Zimmermann on top in the Republican-leaning district, which includes Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin and parts of East Lake. He said Tuesday he looks forward to bringing a teacher's perspective to Tallahassee's discussion of the future of Florida's public education system.

Will Hobson, Times staff writer

Negativity doesn't pay in House District 68

A last-minute slew of attack ads may have backfired in House District 68, where political newcomer Dwight Dudley topped former state legislator Frank Farkas.

Dudley, a Democrat, had 51 percent of the vote in the St. Petersburg-based district compared with Farkas' 44 percent, according to unofficial results Tuesday night. Independent Matt Weidner captured 5 percent.

Dudley, a 58-year-old lawyer, said one of his first goals is to eliminate the culture of corruption in Tallahassee.

"I want to work across the aisle to make better policy," he said. "I believe in the pocketbook issues."

Farkas, who served in the House from 1998 to 2006, unleashed an onslaught of negative ads in the last weeks of the campaign. He sent fliers showing mug shots of killers, rapists and sex offenders represented by Dudley. Farkas, a chiropractor, blasted Dudley for describing himself on the campaign trail as a small business owner instead of a criminal lawyer.

Farkas did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday night.

Dudley said he heard from more than 200 Republicans who voted for him because of the attack ads.

"I think it hurt him badly," Dudley said. "It was like a boomerang."

Dudley lambasted Farkas for supporting a 2006 law that allowed utility companies like Progress Energy to charge customers for nuclear plants before construction even begins. He dubbed the law the "Farkas Fee." He also labeled Farkas in mailers as "shameless" for his ties to corporate lobbyists.

Mark Puente, Times staff writer

Kathleen Peters wins House District 69 race

Despite an onslaught of negative advertising by the Florida Democratic Party, Republican Kathleen Peters edged Josh Shulman in the race for House District 69.

Peters earned just more than 52 percent of the vote, a margin less than she expected and polls predicted, according to unofficial results Tuesday. The district encompasses most of the south Pinellas beaches and parts of west St. Petersburg

"I believe that people are frustrated and angry with the negative campaigns," said Peters, 51. "I got so angry that I wanted to lash back, but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't."

Peters said she was tempted to launch her own negative advertisement, and was even told she would lose if she didn't.

"I had numerous people call me and tell me they voted for me because I didn't go negative," she said.

Shulman, a 36-year-old certified financial planner, lost an election for the second consecutive year. In 2011, the Democrat unsuccessfully ran for a spot on the St. Petersburg City Council.

He could not be reached for comment.

Peters and her husband, Michael, have lived in Pinellas County for 27 years and raised four children here. She was elected to South Pasadena's City Commission in 2008. Before resigning this week, she had recently served as mayor, a commission-appointed position.

In her role as the vice president of public affairs at the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, Peters developed a statewide network of political contacts, and she entered this election with a bevy of high-profile endorsements.

John Woodrow Cox, Times staff writer

Ed Hooper wins re-election in District 67

With a huge campaign war chest at his disposal, Republican Ed Hooper eked out a victory over a Democratic challenger in an increasingly Democratic district, winning reelection to his fourth and final term in the Florida House.

Hooper took about 53 percent of the vote, with his opponent Ben Farrell getting about 47 percent, according to unofficial results.

Hooper, 60, unleashed a blizzard of television ads and campaign flyers to win House District 67, which takes in much of Clearwater and Largo as well as northern Pinellas Park.

"Some of the voters got 12 to 15 mail pieces from me in their mailboxes, and they saw a TV commercial or two," Hooper said. "If you have the money, you've got to reach the voters. If you don't have the money, I don't know how you do it."

Hooper raised $285,000 in campaign funds, more than twice what he had in 2010. More than $80,000 came from the state Republican Party. Meanwhile, Farrell raised $15,400.

Despite the spending gap, both candidates expected a tight race. That's because the newly redrawn district now contains nearly 900 more Democratic voters than Republicans. However, it also has some 23,000 independent voters, and those voters were the candidates' main targets.

Farrell, a 50-year-old restaurant manager, took some satisfaction in getting nearly 29,000 votes compared to Hooper's 32,339.

"It would have been great to win. But against a career politician and a guy so dug in, it would have been a miracle, almost," said Farrell, a first-time candidate. "I'm definitely going to run again. Now I know what I'm doing."

Mike Brassfield, Times staff writer

Tea party favorite Larry Ahern re-elected

Republican Larry Ahern, a popular incumbent and a tea party favorite, defeated newcomer Mary Louise Ambrose to represent the newly drawn District 66.

Ahern, the District 51 incumbent, won 53 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results Tuesday night. He watched the returns come in Tuesday with supporters at the Carillon Hilton.

"It's always such an amazing honor, to be selected by the people as their representative," said Ahern, 57. "I'm really excited about an opportunity in a second term to continue what we started."

Ahern underscored his conservative credentials in his first term. He voted against a bill that included light rail in Pinellas County, and has called the reduction of regulation on business among his top legislative priorities.

In his second term, he said he wants to rein in the upward trajectory of homeowners' insurance, including those of Citizens Property Insurance. He also has criticized expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"One priority is for states to determine their own destinies," Ahern said. "Or are we so attached to the federal government that the only way we get our tax power is with strings attached, by what they decide and not what we decide?"

The redrawn district extends from Indian Shores to Clearwater and includes Seminole and part of Largo. Ahern owns a pool remodeling company and has lived in the Tampa Bay area for 31 years. He moved last month to Seminole from St. Petersburg.

Andrew Meacham, Times staff writer

Democrats have a strong showing in Florida House races 11/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 12:54am]

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