Democrat Bob Hackworth soundly defeated two opponents to challenge longtime Rep. C.W. Bill Young this fall, while Bill Mitchell narrowly won the Democratic primary in closely watched District 9.
In the sprawling 5th Congressional District north of Tampa Bay, Democrat John Russell topped his two opponents to force a rematch against Republican incumbent Ginny Brown-Waite.
Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, 53, will take on Young, an icon in Pinellas County who has represented the area in Congress for nearly four decades.
Hackworth won with 47 percent, defeating Samm Simpson with 29 percent and Max Linn with 24 percent. He argued that it would take a citizen-legislator who is connected to voters' needs to challenge a formidable incumbent like Young.
"I had a message, and I think people responded to it," Hackworth said from a celebration in downtown Dunedin. "I will use the same message against Bill Young."
Simpson, who challenged Young alone in 2006, led a fiery group of followers on the smallest budget of the three contenders. "Our campaign was all volunteer, all grass roots, and they worked their hearts out," Simpson said, adding that she and her supporters want to meet with Hackworth to determine their next step.
Linn, a multimillionaire former financial planner, sank more than half a million dollars into his campaign but came in last. He said low turnout — just under 13 percent in Pinellas County — hurt his chances because his opponents had dedicated bases.
"I'd like to congratulate Bob Hackworth," Linn said. "And now the Democrats must come together to defeat Bill Young."
In one of Tuesday's closest races, Tampa lawyer Bill Mitchell edged out John Dicks and Anita de Palma with 38 percent of the vote. Dicks, a former mayor of Plant City, came in second with 33 percent and Hispanic activist de Palma trailed with 29 percent.
Mitchell's strongest support came from Pasco County voters while Dicks garnered more votes in Hillsborough. The race was tightest in Pinellas, where each candidate picked up about a third of the votes.
"Pasco County is a very patriotic county, there are many veterans there and they feel very strongly about the United States," said Mitchell, 61, a former Naval submarine officer. "I think we share the same values."
Russell, 52, received about 50 percent of the vote. Carol Castagnero, a retired teacher from Lakeland, took second with 38 percent and David Werder, a perennial candidate from Brooksville, finished last with 10 percent.
Russell said his campaign will now focus on Brown-Waite's six-year record in Congress.
"Tomorrow (we) begin the campaign to bring change to Congress," he told Bay News 9 from a campaign event in Spring Hill. "We are going to try to draw distinctions between what has been promised and what has been accomplished by the congresswoman."