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Rivals battle for state House

The fact that Victor Crist and Mary Figg have represented state House District 60 is apparent in the easy, familiar way the candidates mingle with the district's diverse constituents.

Crist, the 37-year-old Republican incumbent, was clearly among friends Thursday afternoon at a luncheon hosted by the Temple Terrace Rotary Club.

About 65 guests jockeyed for a private word with the candidate they all seemed to be on a first-name basis with.

Crist in turn worked the room like a true pro, making time for everyone who had discreetly tapped his shoulder for a brief audience.

All left his side smiling, and a good number left the room with large Crist campaign signs.

On a door-to-door swing through an East Lake Park neighborhood last week, Figg _ a Democrat who occupied what is now the District 60 seat for 10 years before dropping out for an unsuccessful run at the state Senate two years ago _ was no less savvy in dealing with prospective voters.

Dressed in a blue chambray dress with a jaunty American flag kerchief knotted around her neck and an incongruous pair of bright Nikes, the 60-year-old Figg tapped confidently on doors, even one with a "No Soliciting" sign on the front door.

"I never know if this means me," she joked.

The door tentatively opened, and it was clearly not the 34-year-old resident that Figg's list of registered voters had led her to expect.

She quickly rebounded, finding out this was the woman's mother.

"We used to live in Lutz," the woman tells Figg. "I've heard of you there."

Yes, she assured Figg with a smile, we'll remember you on Election Day.

With two candidates who have represented the district they are running for, the race between Crist and Figg has a chemistry and tone unlike any other local race this campaign season, political observers from both parties said.

Both Crist and Figg believe they would be more effective than the other in the Legislature. Both believe they know what the true issues are. Both are single-minded about winning.

Before winning the District 60 seat two years ago, Crist, an advertising agency owner from Temple Terrace, was best known for being the president of the University of South Florida Area Community Civic Association, a position he still holds.

The issues in the race are simple, he said.

"Crime. Crime that was allowed to grow during her 10-year tenure," he said, referring to Figg.

He also says that education funding for primary, secondary and post-secondary schools is among his priorities.

He has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Benevolent Association, the Florida Sheriff's Association and the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association, among others.

After losing the state Senate election in 1992, Figg didn't go into hiding. She was appointed to the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and took an administrative job at USF. She left the job when she decided to run for office this year.

She, too, says the issues are clear-cut. Funding for education _ particularly at USF _ the area's water supply, and crime.

She has been endorsed by the Florida Social Workers, the Florida AFL-CIO and the Florida League of Conservation Voters, among others.

"This is probably one of the most contested races in the state - one of the most hotly contested and most watched," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at USF and political analyst.

Several factors make this race intriguing, MacManus said.

"This time around the number of women candidates running for the Legislature has decreased," MacManus said. "The state trend-watchers will be looking at whether you can come back after an absence if you are a woman."

It's also worth noting the makeup of the district changed in 1992 _ the year Figg left _ because of reapportionment, MacManus said.

And finally, MacManus said, the District 60 race is so watchable because it's a close one.

"She'll pull her traditional voters in, and he'll pull his traditional voters in," she said. "The question is, who will pull the most."

"It all spells down-to-the-wire campaigning," MacManus said.

The race has been punctuated with The race has been punctuated with verbal jabs and accusations from both sides that began early and show no sign of waning.

Crist accused Figg of taking files from the district legislative office when she left that could have helped smooth his transition.

Figg alleged Crist used $1,700 from his campaign fund for personal matters. He denied the allegations, saying he has the receipts to prove it.

The latest dispute is over a file Figg's staff left on the legislative computer that Crist says indicates she campaigned on state time two years ago.

Figg questions Crist's evidence, saying the files could have been doctored.

Both candidates deny the negative tone of the campaign is their doing. Both know better than to dwell on the allegations before voters, choosing instead to concentrate on their own accomplishments.

"The last time I was here, I talked about the Legislature," Crist told the Rotary crowd. "This time I think it's important that you peek inside and see who I am."

The personal introduction hardly seemed necessary. The core group of Temple Terrace business people already seemed to treat Crist like family.

Nevertheless, he stressed to them that he has done a lot more than his much-publicized work with the USF Area Community Civic Association.

He talked about being appointed by the governor to serve on the board of directors for the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence and his work with the bipartisan Freshman Caucus in the Legislature.

"Most of you know I'm no Johnny-come-lately," he concluded.

As Figg walked the shady, middle-class neighborhood around East Lake Wednesday, her message also was of involvement and experience.

On these door-to-door visits, she encourages residents to tell her their concerns and what they want from their legislators, she explained.

She usually concluded with, "Can I count on your vote on Election Day then?"

"We'll remember you," she was promised.

District 60 covers Temple Terrace, the area around USF, Tampa Palms, Lutz, north Tampa and Thonotosassa.

According to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office, there were 45,150 registered voters in the district as of Oct. 1. Of that number, 23,050 are Democrats, 16,689 are Republicans and 5,411 listed themselves as other.

As of Sept. 29, Crist had received $82,874 in contributions, compared to $50,835 for Figg.