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GOP's Lee leaps to a wide lead // FLORIDA SENATE DISTRICT 23

In a battle between Brandon real estate professionals, Tom Lee won a solid victory over Mark Proctor in the race for the Republican nomination for the District 23 seat in the Florida Senate.

Lee led Proctor by nearly a 2-1 ratio.

"I'm proud of the job we did putting our organization together," said Lee, 34, a political newcomer who is vice president of Sabal Homes. "And I think people felt comfortable with our delivery.

"I made a pledge to run a clean campaign, and I think our soft and more thoughtful approach made the difference."

Lee also said voters reacted to his stance on the issues: pledges to attack growth in government and taxation, to work for charter schools and to enact "three-strikes-and-you're-out" criminal legislation.

In the Nov. 5 general election, Lee will face Democrat John Dicks, a Plant City financial adviser and member of a six-generation Hillsborough family.

The winner there will take the Senate seat of powerful Seffner Republican Malcolm Beard, who is retiring after 16 years and who endorsed Lee. The Senate 23 district encompasses most of Hillsborough County east of Interstate 75, along with parts of Ruskin.

Tuesday night's vote marked the second electoral failure for Proctor, 48, the owner of a commercial real estate business. He ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 1984.

Like Beard, Lee switched from Democrat to Republican, a change that prompted criticism from Proctor, a member of the Hillsborough Republican Executive Committee. Proctor also accused Lee of flip-flopping on issues such as private school vouchers.

But in last month's three-way GOP primary, Lee easily outdistanced Proctor, capturing 47.7 percent of the vote to Proctor's 29.9 percent.

With thousands in contributions from business interests and political action committees, Lee outspent Proctor by a wide margin, $126,045 to $51,752.