Congressional candidate Sandy Freedman started Tuesday evening by opening a fortune cookie that predicted she "will be rewarded with a great honor." By 10 p.m., as election results came in, it seemed the cookie was correct.
The former Tampa mayor held a double-digit lead over her three Democratic opponents in the race to replace retiring Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, in the 11th Congressional District.
The battle for second place, and a slot in the Oct. 1 runoff, was between state Rep. Jim Davis and Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky. Former state legislator Pat Frank was a distant fourth.
"We always thought there would be a runoff," Freedman said. "You had four qualified candidates in this race."
Davis and Busansky watched the election returns at two downtown restaurants.
Looking at the partial returns that showed him in second place, Davis said he was heartened by the numbers.
"I think the vote suggests that a significant majority of the voters want an alternative (to Freedman)," said Davis, who watched the returns from the Valencia Garden restaurant. "My job will continue to be to tell the voters why I will be the best person."
At Carlino's Restaurant on Bayshore Boulevard, Busanky wore a green dress that matched the green Busansky for Congress signs. As returns showed her slipping into third place, the mood was tense.
"At this point, we're just waiting," Busansky said.
The winner of the Democratic runoff will face Republican candidate Mark Sharpe in the November election.
The congressional race started civilly, with candidates running on their records of public service. Freedman, who had strong leads in early polls, refused to attack any of her opponents. Busansky also focused her campaign on her record.
But as election day neared, some shots were fired. In a mailing to voters, Davis implied that a Freedman policy during her tenure as mayor was partly responsible for the shooting of two police officers. Freedman vehemently denied the accusation, and top police officials supported her. Davis also questioned some of Busansky's policies during debates.
Frank, a veteran of the Legislature, tried to distance herself from her opponents by talking about reform of Social Security and Medicare. She also was an outspoken opponent of the proposed half-cent sales tax in Hillsborough.