Jack is back.
Voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties sent Republican Jack Latvala back to the Florida Senate on Tuesday night, as the 59-year-old businessman easily outdistanced Democrat Nina Hayden for the District 16 seat.
"I'm obviously very appreciative of the many people who helped me and voted for me. It's humbling," said Latvala, who celebrated with supporters Tuesday night at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater.
Latvala previously served in the Senate from 1994 to 2002, including two years as majority leader (1998-2000), before term limits ended his run. He takes over a seat previously held by Democrat Charlie Justice, who lost a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday against incumbent C.W. Bill Young.
Hayden, 36, of Clearwater is a public defender who is ending a two-year term on the Pinellas County School Board.
"It was a very challenging race. Everybody knew it was an uphill battle for me," Hayden said. "My heart was in it. Sometimes you feel like you're doing the right thing and the results don't turn out the way you'd like."
Latvala's victory, in which he garnered more than 60 percent of the vote, was in line with the large leads he held over Hayden in fundraising and endorsements. Latvala raised nearly $800,000 to Hayden's $14,500, and he was endorsed by law enforcement, education and business groups.
Latvala spent the first part of his day Tuesday at a polling site in Odessa. He then cast his ballot at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, and also spent time near a polling site in Feather Sound.
Hayden and family members spent time at various Pinellas and Hillsborough polling sites before gathering with supporters Tuesday night at a Holiday Inn on Ulmerton Road.
District 16 includes a large portion of Pinellas east of U.S. 19 and several areas of Hillsborough, including South Tampa and Westchase.
Richard Martin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8330.