SEMINOLE — First-time candidate Larry Ahern defeated incumbent Janet Long to take the state House District 51 seat.
Republican Ahern, 55, was a virtual unknown when he announced his candidacy against Long, 65, a Democrat. Ahern took an early lead Tuesday, eventually earning 50.5 percent of the vote to Long's 44 percent.
The owner of a swimming pool remodeling business, Ahern emphasized conservatism and a business-friendly attitude. Long, who was elected in 2006, stressed her record at working withe fellow House members on both sides of the aisle.
The campaign soon became noteworthy for the charges and barbs Ahern and Long traded. She was criticized for a commercial in which her son, a war hero, characterized Ahern as a coward. Long said the charge was based on Ahern's reliance on Republican party money, support and campaign literature.
Ahern also defeated Victoria Torres, a tea party candidate who lived in Orlando. State law required that she be a Pinellas County resident as of election day in order to take office. But Torres was the absent candidate for the duration of the campaign and it is unclear if she did move to Pinellas. She received 5.5 percent of the vote.