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Challengers fail to emerge for some posts

It was noon. The deadline had passed.

Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand walked briskly into the county's elections office Friday, unable to wait another minute to learn whether anyone had stepped forward to challenge her.

As she anxiously looked to an elections clerk, someone called out, "Congratulations."

She was elected _ without a fight.

"I was ready for anything," Hildebrand said.

So were elections workers. But the deadline for candidates to qualify for the Sept. 3 primary and the Nov. 5 general election uneventfully passed on Friday with few last-minute candidates and fewer surprises.

If nothing else, the passing of the deadline confirmed an unsettling fact for Pasco Democrats. Ted Williams, Pasco's property appraiser since 1969, really is retiring from politics.

At least for two years.

Not that Republicans aren't doing their own mourning this year. Superintendent of Schools Tom Weightman is retiring after 22 years at the job.

Democrat John Long is unopposed in the race to replace Weightman, so he wins the election by default.

"It's going to be an unusual election without Ted Williams and Tom Weightman on the ballot after all these years," said Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning. "It'll be an interesting election."

Browning himself did not draw a challenger, winning a fifth term.

Others winning their races by default were Republican state Rep. Carl Littlefield of Dade City in District 61; Republican state Sen. John Grant of Tampa in District 13; and three of Pasco's county judges: Bob Cole, Marc Salton and William Sestak.

It looked for a time like state Sen. Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor would stand among the unopposed candidates in District 19. But Democrat Sue Humphreys of Dunedin qualified at the 11th hour.

For Pasco political watchers the biggest surprise Friday might have come from what didn't happen: an abundance of candidates running for the property appraiser's seat that Williams is giving up.

Many county residents expected a slew of candidates to enter the race as the powerful incumbent retires.

But only Republicans Mike Wells of Hudson, a former county commissioner, and Terry Schrader of San Antonio qualified for the race.

"I believe Pasco's going to have its first Republican property appraiser ever," Browning said.

Democrats, many of whom expected Williams to handpick a successor, were especially disappointed.

"I think it's a shame he didn't," said Democratic Tax Collector Mike Olson. "It's too bad. I really think the Democratic Party is poised to do especially well this year."

Williams could not be reached for comment.

Including congressional races affecting Pasco, Republican candidates outnumber Democrats by a 2-1 margin.

"It's kind of a feeding frenzy the Republicans are on," Olson said. "They did well two year ago. That's discouraged a lot of Democrats from stepping forward in 1996."

A crowded field has entered the race for sheriff, including five Republicans. But that field, although large, isn't a record breaker.

A field that is a record breaker can be found in the race for three mosquito control district seats. A whopping 21 candidates qualified.

In County Commission races, incumbent David "Hap" Clark faces a potentially difficult Democratic primary battle against Daniel Tipton, who lost a primary against Clark in 1992 by 831 votes.

Four Republican candidates also have qualified for that commission race.

Democratic Commissioner Sylvia Young doesn't face a September primary opponent, but three Republicans are challenging her in November.

The qualifying period began Monday at noon and ended Friday at noon. All candidates who wanted to get their names on the ballot had to pay a fee equal to 7.5 percent of the office's salary or collect signatures on a petition equal to 3 percent of the registered voters in their party.

The primary is scheduled for Sept. 3. A second primary, if needed, will be Oct. 1. The general election will be Nov. 5.