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Clark cruises; GOP in runoff // COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 5

It was no 838-vote nail-biter this time.

Incumbent Commissioner David "Hap" Clark easily withstood a challenge from Dan Tipton in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the County Commission District 5 seat.

Unlike 1992, when Clark defeated Tipton by a narrow 838 votes, Tuesday's primary was over early and offered little suspense.

None of the four Republican candidates for District 5 received a majority of the vote in the GOP primary, so the two candidates with the most votes _ James Hollingsworth and Ken Buck _ advance to the Oct. 1 runoff election.

Hollingsworth, however, garnered far more votes than Buck, nearly averting a runoff entirely.

The winner of the October runoff will face Clark in November's general election.

Clark, 74, praised Tipton for running a clean campaign. However, Clark said voters simply recognized him as a good incumbent.

"I'm glad I won," he said. "I thought it would be a lot closer than it was, like last time. I think I've done a good job in office. Everybody's criticized me. But I'm proud of my record."

Tipton, 44, who owns a carpeting and flooring business, blamed his loss on a poor voter turnout that hovered around 20 percent.

"I always thought I would need a heavy turnout to beat an incumbent," Tipton said. "If people are unhappy with an incumbent, they turn out at the polls. I was shocked they didn't do that this year."

Clark, who has served one term on the commission, had been widely criticized during the campaign by Tipton and Republicans alike. He has been faulted as being too laid back and uninvolved in government to be an effective leader.

Clark, however, has downplayed the criticisms, saying his quiet personality helped unite a once feuding commission.

Tipton criticized Clark for an eleventh-hour mailing that suggested Tipton did not have a clear agenda to protect Pasco's water resources.

"I think that last-minute mailer had an impact on the race," Tipton said. "I didn't have time to respond."

In fact, Clark has widely based his campaign on water issues, touting that he led the charge to hire water lobbyist H. Clyde Hobby and helped bring Gov. Lawton Chiles to Pasco to view the county's parched lakes and wetlands.

Clark, a Pasco native, is a retired educator who served as both a teacher and administrator in the Pasco school system. He owned a popular Port Richey restaurant before closing it late last year.

The GOP runoff will pit a political veteran _ former county commissioner Hollingsworth _ against a political newcomer who hasn't been active in party politics _ Buck.

"He certainly came out of nowhere," Hollingsworth said. "I don't think anybody in the party heard of him before. But he's done a good job taking little catch phrases and turning it into a good campaign."

Buck, director of the Pasco Food Bank, has been widely credited with turning around that organization. He said, "I've been in this county for 17 years. I've hardly come out of nowhere."

Republican Earl Halle, who did not make the runoff, said he just couldn't overcome Hollingsworth:

"I didn't have the name recognition," he said. "And I sure didn't have the money."