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GOP House hopefuls locked in "nail-biter' // STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 62

In a contest between Christian conservative lawyers, Johnnie B. Byrd Jr. won in a close race with Ronda R. Storms on Tuesday in the race for the Republican nomination for the District 62 seat in the Florida House.

In the end, Byrd held a 2 percentage point lead on Storms to win the nomination.

"It's a nail-biter," Byrd said earlier in the night. "But I believe I basically am the proven leader. I think I have the maturity and the experience in this race.

Storms said: "We're both conservatives, but I think I'm the one who's demonstrated conservatism more effectively on the front lines. What separated us is fire in the belly. And I believe I have fire in the belly."

Storms, 30, is a former high school teacher who is now a Valrico lawyer and owns a landscaping business with her husband.

Byrd, 45, is a lawyer with Trinkle, Redman, Swanson, Byrd & Coton in Plant City, and past president of the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce.

In the Nov. 5 general election, the GOP nominee will face Democrat Troy Surrency, a former 26-year police chief in Plant City.

The winner takes the $24,912-a-year House seat representing Plant City, eastern Brandon, Valrico, Dover, Seffner and other parts of eastern Hillsborough. The seat is being vacated by restaurateur Buddy Johnson, a Plant City Republican and GOP floor leader who stunned both parties with his announcement this year that he was stepping down to spend more time with his family.

Both candidates are strongly religious and oppose abortion and gay rights.

Storms, a Baptist Sunday school teacher, once protested outside abortion clinics. She has handed out Bibles to inmates and participated in "'Take Back Tampa," a move to rescind a local law protecting homosexuals.

Byrd is a member of an Episcopal Church governing board who helped an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center in Plant City. He instituted National Day of Prayer in Plant City and urged the city's Chamber of Commerce to reject gay rights.