State House District 46 voters decided Tuesday that incumbent Debra Prewitt will represent them another two years.
The hometown candidate resoundingly beat Republican Alan Levine, a political newcomer.
"The citizens of Pasco County District 46 know that Debra Prewitt went to Tallahassee to do a good job for them," she said. "We based our campaign on issues and talked about things I had accomplished and talked about what the voters wanted to hear."
Prewitt, a Democrat who served on the New Port Richey City Council for six years before taking the House seat, has cited her longtime residency and experience as strong advantages over Levine.
"I just want to congratulate Debra," said Levine, vice president of operations at Columbia Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point. "I think we gave her a heck of a challenge and I think it will only serve to make her a better legislator.
"A lot of people worked really hard in my campaign and I'm very, very proud of them," he added.
Throughout the campaign, Prewitt, 33, has charged that Levine would give Columbia unfair influence in the Legislature. Levine, 29, cited that as one of the reasons she won the race.
"I think she was very effective with her message about Columbia," he said. "Also, I think Clinton doing so well (helped). And the Democrats talking about the Republicans wanting to take away Medicare, which couldn't be further from the truth."
The race has been a hot one since early in the year. Because District 46 is close to evenly split among Democrats and Republicans, the seat had been considered winnable by both parties.
Levine and Prewitt were heavily funded by their respective parties and other special-interest groups. He raised $170,000, and she raised more than $200,000. In the 1994 elections, only three candidates for House seats statewide raised more than $200,000.
Prewitt, who was celebrating the election returns at a party at the Quality Inn, is looking forward to returning to Tallahassee with two years of experience under her belt.
"There is a lot of stuff back on the table for us to deal with, like welfare reform and insurance reform," she said. She plans to refile a bill that gives patients the right to sue their managed-care companies. Though it was vetoed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, she wants to work with the governor's office to get it through next year.
Prewitt, who works as executive director of the Deaf Service Center of Pasco and Hernando Counties, will take a leave of absence from her job while the Legislature is in session.
Levine said he isn't sure if he will make another run for the seat in 1998.
"I don't rule anything out," he said. "I'm going to watch Debra Prewitt and if she does a good job, she stays. If she doesn't, I'll be back."