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Confident Kavouklis ready for Coe // HILLSBOROUGH STATE ATTORNEY

Mike Kavouklis held a steady lead Tuesday in the Republican primary for Hillsborough state attorney, positioning him to challenge the Democratic incumbent he once supported and now disdains.

Kavouklis, 60, was smoking a victory cigar with just over half the precincts reporting, confident that his lead over opponent John Moser would only grow as more results came in.

"This was a diversion," said Kavouklis. "Now I can focus on where it really counts."

Moser, a 41-year-old political newcomer, entered the race in April, more than five months after Kavouklis. But he ran a spirited campaign, raising enough money to help him overcome a significant lack of name recognition.

Tuesday night, Moser was unwilling to concede defeat until he saw the results from key precincts in the eastern and northern parts of the county.

"Until we see those numbers, we think it's too early to tell," Moser said.

Moser tried to turn his political inexperience to his advantage. He reminded voters that he was not a politician, but a career prosecutor running for the job of the county's top prosecutor.

Moser began his 11-year career as an assistant state attorney for then-Hillsborough State Attorney Bill James, who later endorsed him. After 5{ years there he moved to the Office of the Statewide Prosecutor.

Kavouklis, now in private practice, emphasized the experience he acquired over 34 years. During that time he has served as an assistant attorney general, research assistant for the Florida Supreme Court, assistant state attorney, Hillsborough County attorney and Hillsborough County Court judge.

Kavouklis campaigned enthusiastically for Harry Lee Coe in his successful bid to unseat James in 1992. Kavouklis said he was urged to run against Coe this year by people who agreed with him that Coe was an "embarrassment" to the office.

Kavouklis predicted he would draw Democrats away from Coe if he faces him in November. "Moser couldn't beat Coe, but I'm going to," he said.