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Fasano narrowly defeats political newcomer // STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 45

Republican state Rep. Mike Fasano narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Brian Prescott late Tuesday in a District 45 race that provided the county's closest Election Day contest.

Fasano, who promised a clean campaign, only to take it negative at the 11th hour, held a seemingly comfortable lead over Prescott through the night. Prescott, however, steadily carved into his margin later into the evening.

Neither candidate was willing to concede or acknowledge victory by press time.

"If these numbers continue the way that they've been going, we are, of course, ecstatic," Fasano, 38, said as he held a slim lead. "Once again, we've worked a great campaign at the grass-roots level and it appears to be paying off."

Prescott, 27, down a few percentage points, said, "We're within striking distance. It's way too close to call. Our big precincts are still out there. We're confident."

The campaign had become quite contentious in recent days.

Prescott, a former sheriff's deputy, has criticized a late mailing by the incumbent comparing him to Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles police detective who was accused of being a racist and committed perjury during the O.J. Simpson trial.

The mailer, which falsely said Prescott had been the subject of five internal affairs investigations while a deputy, was mailed Saturday, leaving Prescott little time to respond.

Fasano said he resorted to the attack ad, probably the most fierce for any Pasco campaign this year, only after Prescott first started the mudslinging.

Fasano said the mail piece appeared to do little to turn voters away from his campaign.

With control of the state House up for grabs this year, the District 45 race attracted considerable attention from the state parties, especially on the Democratic side.

As Fasano enjoyed financial backing that Prescott could not come close to achieving, a line of Democratic heavyweights, including Gov. Lawton Chiles, hit the stump for the neophyte politician.

During the campaign, Prescott attacked Fasano for voting to raise at least 40 fees after promising two years ago that he would not vote to raise taxes once elected. Fasano said fees do not amount to taxes, and he said he still opposes a state income tax or new sales taxes.

Fasano, meanwhile, ran on his legislative record and, through much of the campaign, remained uncritical of the challenger. Fasano also touted his work to help lure a state veterans nursing home to Land O'Lakes.

District 45 includes much of west and central Pasco, slivers of east Pasco and one precinct in southeast Hernando County.