Anna Cowin, a Republican, was pulling away from retired Citrus sheriff Charles Dean late Tuesday in their fierce battle for the state Senate District 11 seat.
Lake County was the key in this race, and that's where Cowin was doing best. She also had solid showings in Marion, Sumter and Seminole counties.
Dean was doing well in Citrus, but not nearly enough to overcome that lead.
"I'm looking forward to serving the district," Cowin said from her campaign headquarters. "I always felt I had strong support in Lake County. The people know me best."
Cowin battled her way through a five-candidate Republican primary to reach her general election fight with Dean, who faced no Democratic opposition.
A trained educator, Cowin, 50, served on the Lake County School Board from 1982 through 1990. She helped introduce drug dogs into the schools and banned students from carrying beepers.
Cowin ran on a traditional conservative platform that calls for no new taxes, a crackdown on excessive government regulation and strong tort reform to cut out frivolous lawsuits. She also supports prison inmates serving 100 percent of their sentences and strong attention to victims' rights.
Dean served as Citrus County's top law officer from 1981 until he retired earlier this year. He supports building a juvenile detention facility in each county and notes that he brought resource officers and the DARE program into public schools.
Among the local races, this was the roughest.
National Republican groups poured in more than $100,000 to finance a direct mail and TV blitz that accused Dean of being a corrupt and incompetent sheriff.
The Democrats accused Cowin of raising taxes while on the Lake School Board and of lying.