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Voters return Susan Latvala to the Pinellas County Commission

Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala coasted to victory over Democrat Bob Hackworth, turning an expensive fight into a decisive victory.

Latvala, 61, a commissioner since 2000, faced her biggest test this year. She weathered a tough, three-person Republican primary, then faced Hackworth, the former mayor of Dunedin and family publishing executive.

But by mid-October, early voting trends — and growing support for Republicans in general — showed she would win, Latvala said.

She won 55 percent of the early and mail vote, and her lead held steady at the polls for the north Pinellas District 4 seat, which has 15,000 more Republicans than Democrats.

Hackworth, 55, stuck to two themes in the campaign: government spending and ethics. He blasted Latvala for taking contributions from companies seeking county business — tagging his yard signs with "not for sale."

But Latvala, who raised $146,000, said Hackworth's low fundraising was reflective of the level of support he had in Pinellas. Hackworth contributed $50,000 of the $84,000 he raised.

"He got no traction. … He raised no money, and that's a big indicator," Latvala said.

A self-described moderate Republican with a penchant for blunt talk, Latvala came under fire for being part of a commission that raised government spending, then had to make layoffs and deep spending cuts to balance the budget.

But she delivered critical blows in mid-October against Hackworth, blasting him for his past support of President Barack Obama in one mailer. She also branded him a "Tax Quack" for supporting new fees, without mentioning her similar stances or his promise to lower property taxes.

"I thought we'd be fighting for the middle," Hackworth said as he stood outside a polling place Tuesday. "She swung to the right."

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The result leaves the seven-member board with a 6-1 Republican majority because Republican Norm Roche upset 13-year Commissioner Calvin Harris, a Democrat. Commissioner John Morroni, a Republican, was re-elected without opposition.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Voters return Susan Latvala to the Pinellas County Commission 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 1:11am]

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