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THE LEGISLATURE // Parties maneuver for state House control

Published Jul. 6, 2006

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 currently 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 State House District 43, which covers Citrus and parts of Hernando and Marion counties, Republican Nancy Argenziano won with 66 percent of the vote, followed by R.D. "Skip" Steigner, who claimed 34 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Argenziano will face Democrat Rep. Helen Spivey in November.

In a race that drew the attention of Gov. Lawton Chiles, Ted Doran took 63 percent of the vote to 37 percent for former Rep. Jimmy Charles in House District 27.

Doran, a lawyer, will face Republican incumbent Evelyn Lynn in November in the crucial district, which lies along the northern end of the so-called "I-4 Corridor" both parties believe they must win to control the House.

Charles lost to Lynn two years ago after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute during the campaign. He was later acquitted by a jury, but Chiles persuaded Doran to run against Charles.

In two Central Florida races, meanwhile, incumbents Bob Sindler, a Democrat from Apopka, and Bill Sublette, an Orlando Republican, turned away primary challengers.

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.

In the crowded GOP primary for Senate District 11, which covers east Citrus and portions of Marion Lake, Seminole and Sumter, Hope Lamb and Anna Cowin were headed to a runoff. Al J. Cone, Gary Siegel and Chester J. White were the other candidates in the race. The incumbent, Karen Johnson, is running for Citrus school superintendent.

The winner will face the lone Democratic candidate, retiring Citrus Sheriff Charles Dean, in November.

Former state Rep. Lois Benson advanced to a Republican runoff with Charles Clary to replace state Sen. Robert Harden of Fort Walton Beach, who departed amid financial and personal problems.