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U.S. HOUSE, 9TH DISTRICT // Bilirakis holds a wide lead over Corbino

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, a congressman since 1982, appeared headed for a decisive victory Tuesday in the Republican primary race against a Safety Harbor city commissioner who campaigned largely on the issue of term limits.

At 9 p.m., the 9th District congressman held a strong lead over his opponent, Pamela Mills Corbino, by a ratio of 4-to-1.

Corbino, a 47-year-old schoolteacher with little political experience, took on the incumbent, arguing Bilirakis had been in office too long.

Bilirakis represents a district that stretches from Clearwater and Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County to portions of Hillsborough and central Pasco counties. In the general election Nov. 5, the GOP nominee will face a Democrat, Jerry Provenzano, who is a former mayor of Oldsmar.

Corbino, who characterized the race as David versus Goliath, conceded defeat in a telephone interview but hoped to get a respectable percentage of votes by night's end:

"We went into this knowing we didn't have much money and we had a hard fight ahead of us. We certainly are not going to sit around and cry."

Bilirakis, in a telephone interview, was satisfied with his apparent victory: "You always feel good when you win at anything and it looks like we are winning pretty big right now."

Bilirakis had never run for political office before winning his congressional seat in 1982.

While in office, he has focused on health care reform and issues affecting seniors and veterans.

Corbino was the third candidate to challenge the congressman in a primary. In 1992, former state House Rep. Patricia A. "Trish" Muscarella was beaten, getting 33 percent of the vote. In the 1990 primary, Bilirakis defeated John Freehafer.