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Fowler leads early in re-election bid // U.S. HOUSE

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Rep. Tillie Fowler took an early lead in her bid for outright re-election to Congress on Tuesday while former state Sen. George Stuart was attempting a political comeback in a Central Florida congressional race.

Fowler's race in the GOP primary against Jacksonville Beach geologist Gregg Trude was the only decisive congressional primary in Florida. Democrats failed to field a candidate for the District 4 seat. With 53 percent of precincts reporting, Fowler was leading 89 percent to 11 percent over Trude.

Meanwhile, Stuart appeared to take a step toward a political comeback in Central Florida's District 7 Democratic primary with 80 percent of precincts counted.

Stuart, a Tallahassee lobbyist and business consultant, led former Seminole County Commissioner Robert Gingrich "Bud" Feather, a DeLand real estate consultant, 65 percent to 35 percent. The winner will challenge Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, in November.

Stuart served in the Senate for 10 years and was appointed secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation by Gov. Lawton Chiles. Stuart resigned last year after being cleared of accusations he violated travel rules.

Three seats open because of retirements by Democratic congressmen attracted multiple candidates. Runoffs will be held Oct. 1 if necessary.

Four Democrats and two Republicans were running in South Florida's District 19, where Rep. Harry Johnston, D-West Palm Beach, declined to seek re-election.

With 49 percent of precincts counted in the Democratic primary, state Sen. Robert Wexler, a Boca Raton lawyer, led with 55 percent, state Sen. Peter Weinstein, a Coral Springs lawyer, had 25 percent, followed by state Rep. Ben Graber, a Coral Springs gynecologist, 18 percent, and Boca Raton inventor-businessman Peter Tsakanikas, 2 percent.

In the Republican primary, Beverly Kennedy, a Pompano Beach financial consultant, led Dr. Joseph Smith, a Lauderhill chiropractor, 68 percent to 32 percent.

State Rep. Allen Boyd, a Monticello farmer, led a three-way Democratic primary for the District 2 seat of retiring Rep. Pete Peterson, D-Marianna.

With 56 percent of precincts reporting, Boyd had 50 percent of the votes. Retired Gulf County Judge David Taunton of Wewahitchka had 18 percent and Leon County Commissioner Anita Davis of Tallahassee had 31 percent.

Three candidates, all from Tallahassee, sought the Republican nomination in the Panhandle district. With 53 percent of precincts reporting, conservative lobbyist Carole Griffin had 52 percent of the votes, while banker and former state commerce secretary Bill Sutton had 24 percent and business executive Mark Bellamy had 12 percent.

Republicans currently hold a 15-8 edge in Florida's U.S. House delegation.