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FLORIDA HOUSE: DISTRICT 56 // Children's advocate ahead of journalist

Longtime children's advocate Sandra Murman expected that her record would win her the Democratic nomination for the state House District 56 seat, and it appeared Tuesday she was right.

With more than half of the precincts reporting, Murman held a strong lead over broadcast journalist Liz Alpert in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Jim Davis, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Congress.

If her lead holds, Murman, 46, will face Republican Bill Butler, 39, a marketing executive for Universal Studios Florida, in November.

Both Murman, 46, and Alpert, 47, were making their first runs for political office.

Both candidates wanted greater public investment in education, crime prevention and health care for the poor.

"I think we did all we could do," Alpert said. "I figured it would be a close race, but I still figured we would win it."

While Alpert emphasized her ability to bring those issues to the attention of state leaders, Murman said she was the candidate best able to deal with them.

She said it was her experience lobbying and working on behalf of children that attracted primary voters and would do so again in November.

"My message won't change. It has worked, and voters believe that what I'm saying is what we need to be doing," Murman said.

District 56 snakes across Hillsborough County from suburban Carrollwood through Seminole Heights and downtown Tampa and into rural Gibsonton and Riverview.

Democrats, trying to maintain a 63-57 lead in the House, would love to keep the seat in their party's hands. Republicans, who already control the state Senate, see the District 56 seat as a key prize in their fight to make Florida the first Southern state with a Republican-dominated Legislature.

Nearly half _ 47 percent _ of the district's 56,867 registered voters are Democrats.