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END OF THE TRAIL // Far more than presidency at stake

Voters across the nation will decide today whether to replace President Clinton with his Republican challenger, Bob Dole _ but they will decide a lot more than that.

Local candidates worked almost desperately Monday to encourage voter turnout in today's general election, fearful that apathy over the presidential race might hurt their own chances.

With the polls favoring Clinton over Dole, Republicans urged their followers not to give up. Democrats worried that their supporters might assume victory and fail to turn out for local races.

Today's stakes go far beyond the White House. Voters around the nation will decide whether to keep Congress in the hands of Republicans, who have not kept control of both House and Senate for two elections in a row since 1930.

Here in Florida, voters will decide:

Whether the state votes for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1976. Clinton held a slight lead in the final polls. Clinton, Dole, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot and Libertarian candidate Harry Browne are on the Florida presidential ballot.

Whether Republicans, who already control the state Senate, will take over the state House as well for the first time since Reconstruction.

Whether races for Congress in Tampa, Tallahassee and on the Space Coast will help tip the national balance of power.

Whether to pass six amendments to the state Constitution, including a controversial tax on sugar.

In addition, Floridians will elect a new crop of county commissioners, sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, clerks of court and officers of local taxing authorities.

The only thing missing from the Florida ballot will be statewide office. The governor and Cabinet members, who serve four-year terms, are not up for election until 1998. Neither of the state's U.S. senators, who serve six-year terms, are up this year. An election without a statewide race occurs once every 12 years.

In the presidential race, Clinton is seeking to be the first Democrat re-elected to a second full term since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936.

Dole started his last full campaign day in Sacramento, Calif. His schedule called for visits to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Iowa and Missouri before going home to Kansas to vote.

Dole's final campaign hours this morning were to include a rally in Independence, Mo., the hometown of Harry Truman, whose 1948 win over Republican Thomas Dewey is considered one of the great surprise comebacks in American politics.

Clinton's schedule took him from New Hampshire to Ohio, with later stops in Kentucky, Iowa and South Dakota before going home to Arkansas to vote.

Meanwhile, the battle for control of Congress came down to the last day with few experts willing to predict the outcome, especially in the House.

Republicans now control the Senate by a margin of 53-47, and the House by a margin of 235-197, with one independent and one vacancy.

Democrats need four seats to win back the Senate, and 19 to win the House, assuming the lone independent, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, votes with the Democrats to name a new speaker.

Florida holds an important piece to the national puzzle in the 11th Congressional District in Tampa, where Democrat Jim Davis and Republican Mark Sharpe are competing to replace veteran Democrat Sam Gibbons, who is retiring.

When it comes to controlling the state Legislature, the two parties have mounted a fierce, and sometimes nasty, battle.

Republicans already control the state Senate 22-18. They are making a serious attempt to take over the state House, where Democrats now lead 63-57.

Perhaps the most contested campaign in Florida this year involves no candidate at all, but an idea _ the idea of taxing the sugar industry a penny a pound to pay for Everglades cleanup.

Amendments 4, 5 and 6 on the state ballot deal with the tax. The industry has mounted a massive advertising campaign arguing that it is a major tax increase that would just give more power to bureaucrats and cost consumers money.

Less publicized is Amendment 1, which would require a two-thirds vote for any new taxes passed in a statewide election. Lawyers disagree on whether Amendment 1, if it passes, would wipe out the sugar amendments if they pass today.

Amendment 2 would slightly change the role of the state Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every decade to suggest changes, and Amendment 3 would revise the way judges are nominated and would amend the workings of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, which disciplines judges.

Florida is not alone; there is a record crop of voter initiatives on state ballots this year. California has two of the most notable: one to outlaw race- or gender-based preferences and one to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.