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Bilirakis cruises to re-election // U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT 9

U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, who has pushed for health care reform and safer food and drinking water, won an eighth term to Congress on Tuesday.

Bilirakis eased into another term, beating his opponent, Jerry Provenzano by a sizable margin.

By 10:30 p.m., Bilirakis was leading Provenzano by more than a 2-1 ratio.

Bilirakis' victory in the 9th Congressional District, which includes northern Pinellas County and parts of Pasco and Hillsborough counties, was predicted.

But during the campaign, Provenzano, the former mayor of Oldsmar, emerged as a scrappy newcomer to the national political scene. Provenzano repeatedly challenged the incumbent's record but had little money to finance an effective campaign against Bilirakis.

"I think it's a pretty solid win," said Bob Meyers, Bilirakis' political consultant. "You can't take 2 to 1 plus and say it is not a solid win."

Bilirakis did not return phone calls for comment.

The two candidates clashed briefly last month after Bilirakis declined to debate Provenzano. The low-key member of Congress chose instead to campaign in his own style, quietly tapping the network of supporters he has accumulated over 14 years in office.

Bilirakis had never held political office when he ran for Congress in 1982 and narrowly defeated state Rep. George Sheldon.

Provenzano, 47, spent four years as a council member in Oldsmar and four years as that city's mayor before deciding to run for higher office. He ran on a platform of change and criticized Bilirakis for being a "rubber stamp" member of Congress.

"It was a great learning experience," Provenzano said late Tuesday. "We made absolutely magic with the meager support we were able to garner from our family and friends. The bottom line is we came up a half million dollars short."

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