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GOP depending on anti-incumbent vote

Republicans hope enough anti-incumbent sentiment will be aroused by a Tallahassee ethics scandal and spill over from the federal budget dilemma in Washington to shrink or even erase the Democrats' majority in the state House. "I think the mood of the people is to throw the bums out wherever they are," said House Republican leader John Renke of New Port Richey.

History and mathematics, however, are stacked in favor of continued control by the Democrats, who have a 72-48 majority going into the election Nov. 6.

Historically, incumbents get the lion's share of campaign contributions and few are defeated.

In nearly half of the House districts, voters won't be able to kick out their representatives even if they wanted to. Only 62 of the 120 House seats will be on ballot.

In the other 58 districts, 38 Democrats and 20 Republicans, nearly all incumbents, already have been elected without opposition.

To become the majority, the GOP must win 13 of 33 Democratic seats it is contesting _ a 34th Democratic candidate is opposed only by an independent write-in challenger _ without losing any of its 28 seats that Democrats are challenging.

One thing both sides agree on is that things won't be dull.

"I believe it's going to be a wild final two weeks because one thing the Republicans know how to do is campaign," said Rep. Everett Kelly, D-Tavares, who is slated to serve as speaker pro tempore for the next two years if the Democrats retain their majority.

Kelly would be second in charge to Speaker-designate T.K. Wetherell, D-Daytona Beach, who is campaigning hard to increase the Democratic majority.

Renke predicted Democrats will unleash negative campaigns at the last minute.

Ethics is in the forefront of many campaigns. Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs is investigating allegations that numerous lawmakers failed to disclose on gift reports the vacations and other trips they have received from lobbyists. Complaints against some legislators have been filed with the Ethics Commission.

Those events have prompted challengers in both parties to attack incumbents for accepting trips and blame them for the Legislature's repeated rejection of tough ethics laws.

"We could see some upsets out there even in races that weren't originally targeted," Renke said.

Kelly, however, doesn't expect the ethics issue to have much impact.

He said only two House members, both Republicans, were unseated in primaries and that challengers accused them of being ineffective rather than unethical.

The best opportunity for either party to pick up seats is in races without incumbents. However, only 11 vacant seats are on the ballot, five Democratic and six Republican, including one formerly held by Gerald Rehm of Clearwater, ousted in September's primary election.

Among those the Republicans targeted is Democratic incumbent Brian Rush of Tampa. Kelly said he thought Rush could be in serious trouble against Tampa Republican Polly Demma in District 59.

Among the Republican incumbents, Democrats have targeted Jim Frishe of Pinellas Park.