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Incumbents hold big leads in fund-raising

Two weeks before the general election, it appears that in the School Board races the rich keep getting richer, and the poor ... well, they're still not raising money. In the District 1 race, Democrat Jean Larkin has extended her fund-raising lead, and has spent about $19,000 in her campaign. That may be typical for a well-financed County Commission race, but it's unusual for a Pasco County School Board race. Larkin's opponent, Republican Karen Marler, has spent about $8,600 in her campaign.

Judging from her campaign contributions, Larkin has the support of the Democratic Party and several school administrators. And she said she's proud of it.

"The people who are contributing are the people who know me best," Larkin said. "I'm very pleased to get this kind of support," which, she said, indicates that many think she would do well on the board.

Larkin said several school administrators who contributed to her campaign are friends or have worked with her on school district committees. Her hefty contributions hark back to the primary, she said, when she faced two opponents, including one who also raised a good deal of money.

"I had to be competitive from day one," Larkin said. "I've really run two races against tough opponents." She won the primary against two candidates with 57 percent of the vote.

On the other hand, Marler said she has taken a quiet approach to fund-raising. She questions the wisdom of having a sizable campaign treasury.

"I'm not sure whether the contributions are directly the result of support or an obligation," Marler said.

She said she thinks she may have lost out on some campaign contributions by stressing that she wouldn't show favoritism in return for contributions.

Marler has received some support _ for instance, from the school employees' union, of which she is a member. But she said the endorsement will not sway her decisions if she is elected. Marler won her primary with 54 percent of the vote against one candidate.

In the District 5 race, neither candidate is raising much money. Incumbent Kathleen Wolf, a Republican, has raised about $2,500 _ and $2,000 of it has been her own money.

Wolf, who had no opposition in the primary, said before the campaign began that she would accept no contributions from school employees or businesses doing work for the School Board.

"That way I'm free to make decisions without any obligation to anybody," she said. "I like it that way."

Wolf has turned down some contributions. For instance, she has been endorsed by the school employees' union, which routinely gives $1,000 contributions. But Wolf declined the contribution.

The result, of course, is that she doesn't have much money. But Wolf said she figures that as an incumbent with a record of service, many voters already hold opinions of her. In addition, she said, she's "going to every civic association that has a candidates' night, trying to meet a lot of people."

Wolf's lack of money might not be a factor, though, because her opponent has raised less. Democratic challenger Patricia McNasby has reported no campaign contributions. She hasn't been campaigning, either. Still, the political newcomer won her primary, taking 58 percent of the vote.