Incumbent Republican R. Z. "Sandy" Safley appeared Tuesday to have handily won a fifth term representing state House District 48.
"We're very happy with the early returns and with the absentee ballots," Safley said from Tallahassee late Tuesday, where he already was meeting with senior Republican leaders in the House.
"This is a dynamic time for Florida," said Safley, 50, a Clearwater resident who owns a real estate consulting firm, the Safley Group. "The issue of who will lead Florida for the next two years is in this election."
His 25-year-old challenger, Democrat Kevin Mulford of Palm Harbor, said his campaign had made an impact regardless of the election result.
"From the get-go, my campaign has been about getting people involved," said Mulford, running for the first time.
"Win or lose, we've done that."
Mulford, payroll and billing supervisor for Nurses PRN, a Clearwater home health care company, had targeted young voters, but was outspent and outnumbered in the GOP-dominated district.
Safley and Mulford ran a polite race that was free of controversy.
Mulford at one point was critical of Safley for not being more visible in the district, calling him a "stealth legislator," a charge that Safely denied.
Safley ran the same kind of campaign that has worked for him in the past, stressing his record on education, crime and the environment.
He questioned how knowledgeable Mulford was on some state issues, particularly taking issue with Mulford's view of the economics of education.
Safley first was elected in 1988. He faced no opposition in 1990 and 1994 and won by wide margins in 1988 and 1992.
District 48 covers most of north Pinellas County and part of northwest Hillsborough.