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Parties maneuver for state House mastery // THE LEGISLATURE

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

With no statewide races on Tuesday's primary election ballot, much attention was fixed on the battle for control of the Florida Legislature, where Republicans are within striking distance of taking control of the House for the first time since Reconstruction.

Democrats now hold a 63-57 lead in the House. But because the GOP holds a 32-29 seat lead in uncontested districts, the Republicans only need to win 29 of the 59 contested races to take a majority.

Although the balance of power won't be tested until the November general election, the strategies for each party's campaign will clarify once leaders know who will be facing whom.

"We'll be scrambling pretty good Wednesday morning," said Tom Slade, the GOP's state chairman.

In House District 47, which includes parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, incumbent Rob Wallace was leading Will Craig, 66 percent to 34 percent, in the Republican primary, with 66 percent of precincts reporting. Wallace, who beat Craig for the same seat in 1994, will face Democrat Mary Dunkle in November.

In the contest in House District 52 in Pinellas County, the seat held by retiring House Speaker Peter Wallace, Democrat Margo Fischer, wife of St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, defeated Martha Maddux by 22 votes, according to unofficial final results.

In the GOP race, chiropractor Frank Farkas had 51.6 percent of the votes, while Cary Burns, president of the North Shore Neighborhood Association, had 48.4 percent.

In House District 56 in Hillsborough County, Democrat Sandra L. Murman had 57 percent of the votes, while Liz Alpert had 43 percent in a contest to replace House Majority Leader Jim Davis, who is running for Congress. The winner will face Republican Bill Butler.

In House District 58 in Hillsborough County, Republican Douglas D. MacPherson, who was making a second run for the seat, had 51.7 percent of the votes, while political newcomer Mark Hanisee had 48.2 percent. The winner will face longtime Rep. Elvin Martinez, a Democrat, in the general election.

In the race to replace departing incumbent Buddy Johnson for the House District 62 seat in Hillsborough, Republican Ronda Storms was leading, with 36 percent of the vote. Johnnie B. Byrd had 34.2 percent, James B. McHugh had 23.5 percent and Lloyd O'Hara had 6.3 percent.

In the Senate, where Republicans have a 22-18 advantage, 10 of 21 seats up for election were filled before a vote was cast.

Those belong to six Republican incumbents, including Senate President Jim Scott of Fort Lauderdale, and four Democrats who escaped electoral challenges. No Senate incumbents were on the ballot.

Former state Rep. Lois Benson led five GOP contenders to replace state Sen. Robert Harden of Fort Walton Beach, who departed amid financial and personal problems.