Republicans Tom Lee and Mark Proctor appeared likely Tuesday night to meet again in a runoff for the GOP position on the state Senate District 23 ballot.
Early returns showed Lee, a Brandon home builder, leading Proctor, a Realtor and active Republican Party committeeman, in a three-candidate race. The two appeared to outpace Betty Jo Tompkins, a 49-year-old business directory publisher who chaired the county Consumer Protection Board for the past 18 years.
"We will continue to run a very upbeat campaign on the issues," Lee said Tuesday night.
The winner of an Oct. 1 runoff will face Democrat John Dicks, a Plant City financial adviser and sixth-generation Hillsborough resident, in the general election.
The November victor will take the seat held since 1980 by retiring Sen. Malcolm Beard, R-Seffner, who was once called by newspapers "the most powerful man in Hillsborough County."
Beard, who first got elected to the Senate as a Democrat and then switched to the GOP, represented the split political character of the district. Voter registration in the district, which covers most of eastern Hillsborough and part of Polk County, is roughly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Like Beard, Lee also switched to the Republican Party after having registered as a Democratic.
Proctor, a member of the Hillsborough Republican executive committee, accused Lee of changing parties to win public office and of flip-flopping on issues such as gun control and vouchers for private school education.
Lee said his switch put him in the tradition of Republicans such as Ronald Reagan and Beard.
Indeed, Beard endorsed Lee and threw most of his political organization behind the Brandon home builder. Lee amassed more than $103,000, about twice as much as any other Republican candidate in the race.
"I feel good that being outspent 2-to-1 . . . that I have come so close to him," Proctor said. "We are going to run the campaign the way we will run Tallahassee."