Monday, May 21, 2018
Politics

Here are results in five Pinellas state House races

Pinellas County will send seven representatives to the Florida House next year. Judging from the results of Tuesday's primary, a lot of their names will probably be familiar.

For starters, three veteran Republicans won their primaries by wide margins — north Pinellas incumbents Ed Hooper and Peter Nehr, and former St. Petersburg state representative Frank Farkas. However, they'll each face opposition in the November general election.

In western Pinellas, lawyer and insurance company owner Mary Lou Ambrose won the Democratic primary but could face an uphill battle to beat incumbent Larry Ahern in a Republican-majority district.

In a hotly contested race in south Pinellas, South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters defeated two Republican opponents. She'll also face a Democrat in November.

Two incumbent state representatives were automatically re-elected because no one ran against them — Democrat Darryl Rouson in southeastern St. Petersburg's District 70, and Republican James Grant in District 64, which includes Safety Harbor, Oldsmar and East Lake.

District 65

Incumbent Peter Nehr is one step closer to a fourth term after cruising to an easy victory in the Republican primary.

Nehr, 60, took criticism from his three opponents — Tory Perfetti, Philip Tropea and Marg Baker — for not being conservative enough.

That criticism apparently didn't resonate with Republican voters in Tarpon Springs, Dunedin and Palm Harbor, who awarded Nehr 54 percent of the vote. The next closest finisher was Perfetti, a second lieutenant in the Florida Army National Guard, who got 22 percent.

Nehr won every precinct.

"I'm ecstatic," Nehr said Tuesday night from his victory party at Positano's Ristorante Italiano in Palm Harbor. "Things turned out exactly how I thought they would turn out."

Nehr had the name recognition and the financial advantage, spending more than $101,000 as of the most recent campaign fundraising report. His three primary opponents raised less than $10,000 combined.

Nehr will face a familiar foe in November — Democrat Carl Zimmermann, a journalism teacher at Countryside High School. Zimmermann narrowly lost to Nehr in 2006 and 2008.

"Carl is a nice guy, but all he can do is tell voters what he would do," Nehr said of Zimmermann. "I'll stand on what I've done and what I'll continue to do for the voters in my district."

District 66

In the Democratic primary, lawyer and insurance company owner Mary Lou Ambrose won with nearly 54 percent of the vote. Her opponent, longtime Indian Rocks Beach commissioner Joanne "Cookie" Kennedy, got 46 percent.

The district includes Seminole, the westernmost parts of Clearwater and Largo, and all the Pinellas beach towns north of the Redingtons.

Both candidates said they were running for office out of dissatisfaction in the direction of the state under Gov. Rick Scott.

"I expected a little higher turnout, but it's about the 20 percent that we talked about two months ago," said Ambrose. She says jobs are her top issue, followed by championing women's reproductive rights and voting rights.

She will face Ahern, who is moving into a district with 40 percent Republican voters against 33 percent Democrat voters. "I'm going to have to hit the independents hard, especially the independent women," Ambrose said.

District 67

Ed Hooper, an incumbent running a well-financed campaign for his fourth and final term in the House, handily defeated an underfunded challenger in the Republican primary.

He took a nearly 40-point lead over Christopher Shepard, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran and St. Petersburg College student who was endorsed by Pinellas tea party groups. Shepard won two out of 51 precincts.

"Mr. Shepard was the preferred candidate of the tea party groups, and that's okay," Hooper said Tuesday night. "That one's over, and now we press onward."

Hooper will face a Democratic opponent in the November general election — Ben Farrell, a manager at Lenny's Restaurant in Clearwater. They'll be vying to represent District 67, which includes most of Clearwater and Largo except for the westernmost parts.

Redistricting moved the district's boundaries southward. It lost Safety Harbor, Feather Sound and a bit of Dunedin, but it picked up more of Largo and a slice of northern Pinellas Park.

District 68

Political veteran Frank Farkas will be the Republican candidate for District 68 after beating a political newcomer. He topped Daryle Hamel by winning 75 percent of the votes cast in the district covering much of northeast St. Petersburg and eastern Pinellas Park.

Farkas, who was elected to the House in 1998 and reelected in 2000, 2002 and 2004, said he operated his campaign like an underdog.

"I'm honored with the support we got," he said. "It's onward to the general (election)."

In November, he will face two St. Petersburg attorneys, Democrat Dwight Dudley and independent Matt Weidner. Dudley has about $38,000 in his campaign account; Weidner has $66.

Farkas, who founded the Farkas Chiropractic Clinic and reports a net worth of $3.5 million, raised $78,626 between June 6 and Aug. 9 and spent $19,209 in the same period.

Hamel, a manager at an automotive dealer, raised $779 and loaned his campaign $3,000.

He acknowledged the difficulty of being new to Florida politics and not having connections to donors in Tallahassee.

"When on the street, people said they preferred me," Hamel said. "I've given my best."

District 69

Kathleen Peters ran away with the Republican primary race for this vacant seat, winning by 14 percentage points.

The South Pasadena mayor had 51 percent of the vote. She was followed by attorney David Phillips (36 percent) and IT consultant Jim Dobyns (12 percent).

"Of course, there will be champagne," she said Tuesday night from an election party at Middle Grounds Grill on Treasure Island. "We'll celebrate, and then tomorrow we'll get busy working."

Peters, 51, the vice president of public affairs at the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, has lived in Pinellas County for 27 years. She won a spot on South Pasadena's City Commission in 2008.

If elected to the House, she'll focus on education reform.

Peters, who entered the race with a bevy of high-profile endorsements, will face Democrat Josh Shulman in the general election. They're vying to fill a new seat created in the redistricting process. District 69 includes west St. Petersburg, Gulfport, South Pasadena and the Pinellas beach towns from the Redingtons to St. Pete Beach.

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