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GOP MIGHT SEND IN RINGER

Darryl Rouson's local ties could turn the tide in a heavily Democratic district.

Darryl Rouson, the energetic former St. Petersburg NAACP leader, has picked some tough fights over the years - from City Hall to the peddlers of drug paraphernalia.

Now he's looking at another doozy of a challenge: running as a Republican for the overwhelmingly Democratic state House 55 seat to be vacated next year by Frank Peterman.

"I'm 65 percent leaning toward doing it,'' said the 52-year-old lawyer who is friends with Gov. Charlie Crist.

"I was approached by some people who felt no black Republican has come along that could really make that seat competitive,'' he said of a district that includes south Pinellas and a sliver of Hillsborough and Manatee counties. "But with my activism record, with my knowledge of the district and with my relationships that I'm building in Tallahassee, I could probably be strong enough to attract enough cross-over Democrats to win that seat.''

That's a tall order in a district where 63 percent of registered voters are Democrat, 17 percent are Republican and hometown candidate Crist last year received only 33 percent of the vote. Former state Rep. Rudy Bradley, after switching from Democrat to Republican, tried to run for the state Senate from that district in 2000 and attracted just 26 percent of the vote against Les Miller.

Three Democrats - City Council member Earnest Williams, activist Charles McKenzie, and publisher Gypsy Gallardo - are expected to run for the seat.

Rouson is a high-profile and sometimes controversial community leader who now sits on the state Budget Reform and Taxation Commission.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

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