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Democrats lose Mahoney seat, take 2 others

Rep. Gus Bilirakis is greeted by Fran Neilson of Plant City on Tuesday night in Tarpon Springs. Neilson, a Democrat, supported Bilirakis because “his work in Congress is excellent.”

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Rep. Gus Bilirakis is greeted by Fran Neilson of Plant City on Tuesday night in Tarpon Springs. Neilson, a Democrat, supported Bilirakis because “his work in Congress is excellent.”

Incumbents in the Tampa Bay area's congressional delegation coasted to re-election Tuesday, but two lawmakers from Central Florida were victims of a Democratic wave that swept many Republicans out of office around the nation.

Bay area Republicans C.W. Bill Young, Gus Bilirakis, Ginny Brown-Waite and Democrat Kathy Castor each won double-digit victories. Republican Adam Putnam, who also won solidly, announced Tuesday night that he would not seek another term as chairman of the House Republican Conference, the party's No. 3 leadership position in the House.

Young, the longest-serving Republican in the House, said he was perplexed why there was an anti-Republican backlash when the Democrats were in control of Congress. But he said it was important to put partisanship aside.

"The key here is the election is over tonight, and there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with in the Congress and in the government and it's really time to put the politics aside and go to work for the country," Young said.

Brown-Waite, a Brooksville Republican, won her fourth term by defeating John Russell, a Dade City Democrat she beat in 2006.

Brown-Waite, who won her home county of Hernando by more than 10,000 votes, noted she had prevailed in two elections that favored Democrats.

"I think the public responded well to people who come home and listen to them and are responsive to their constituents and this is what I do," she said from an election night party at Beef O'Brady's in Spring Hill.

Elsewhere in the state, incumbents faced more difficulty.

On the Space Coast, Republican Tom Feeney, who had apologized to his constituents for his ties to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, was defeated by former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a New Smyrna Beach Democrat.

In the Orlando area, Republican Ric Keller lost to Democratic challenger Alan Grayson. He had criticized Keller for being ineffective and breaking an early promise not to seek a fifth term.

Rep. Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens was the only Democrat in Florida to get ousted. He lost to Tom Rooney, a Stuart lawyer whose family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Palm Beach County dog track.

Mahoney won the seat two years ago when Republican Rep. Mark Foley resigned after revelations that he sent sexual e-mails to former House pages.

Mahoney was favored to win re-election until a few weeks ago, when news broke that he had "multiple" affairs while in office. He insists he broke no laws, even though he put one of his lovers on the federal payroll as a congressional staffer. She later became a campaign worker.

He then fired her — he says for performance issues — and paid her $121,903 to keep her quiet and avoid a sexual harassment lawsuit.

In the Tampa Bay area, Young, who was first elected in 1970, soundly defeated Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth. Young ran a low-key campaign, declined a televised debate and rarely even mentioned his opponent.

Hackworth, 53, tried to convince voters that Young should be held responsible for the failed policies of the Bush administration. But Young, who is known for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money to the Tampa Bay area, was never in jeopardy.

There were no surprises in the Ninth Congressional District, with Bilirakis handily beating Tampa lawyer Bill Mitchell.

"I'm very grateful to the voters," said Bilirakis. "And I am ready to get back to work tomorrow morning."

Castor, finishing her first term, won a rerun of her 2006 contest, defeating Republican business owner Eddie Adams Jr.

"We're on the verge of making a significant change in the direction of the country," Castor said. "In the state of Florida, we really could use the additional Democrats in the House."

Putnam of Bartow easily defeated Democrat Doug Tudor of Riverview, raising about $1.7- million to Tudor's less than $100,000. But Putnam made clear Tuesday that he would rather focus on policy than continue as the GOP mouthpiece in the House.

"Sometimes when you're the chief spokesman, it makes it fairly difficult to lock arms and find that consensus," Putnam told the Times.

On the East Coast, Republican Bill Posey won the Melbourne area seat formerly held by Rep. Dave Weldon, who is retiring.

In South Florida, incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart won after a close race with Democrat Joe Garcia, former head of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and one-time executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation.

South Florida's two other Cuban American members of Congress, Diaz-Balart's older brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, won re-election by double-digit margins.

Staff writers David Adams, Stephanie Garry, Rita Farlow, John Frank, Jessica Vandervelde, Wes Allison and Janet Zink contributed to this report, which included information from the Associated Press. Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at adair@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0575.

Democrats lose Mahoney seat, take 2 others 11/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 9:08pm]
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