Election 2012: 3 Republican incumbents lose in Florida House

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Three Republican incumbents lost Tuesday in the Florida House, where Democrats gained half a dozen seats, meaning they'll no longer be forced to deal with a GOP super majority that effectively left them procedurally powerless the past two legislative sessions.

Peter Nehr, Scott Plakon and Shawn Harrison were upset as Democrats cut their deficit to 79-41.

Rep. Chris Dorworth, slated to become House speaker in two years, could be headed for a recount. The Lake Mary Republican, haunted by personal and financial issues, trailed Democratic challenger Mike Clelland through much of the evening Tuesday, but clung to a lead of 98 votes with three precincts yet to report.

In the Senate, 16 incumbents won and one lost. Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff was beaten by another incumbent, Democrat Maria Sachs in a redrawn Broward County district. With 93 percent of the vote counted, Sachs had received 52.9 percent to Bogdanoff's 47.1 percent.

Democrat Carl Zimmerman received 52.8 percent of the vote in his victory over Nehr, while Karen Castor Dentel, whose sister won re-election to Congress, defeated Plakon with 52.9 percent and just under 90 percent of the vote counted. Harrison lost to Mark Danish, who received 61 percent of the vote.

Democrats were close to picking up a House seat that opened in September when State Rep. Mike Horner of Kissimmee resigned abruptly after his named turned up on the client list of an Orange County prostitution ring.

Democrat Eileen Game was instead opposed by Mike LaRosa, who was named by Republicans to replace Horner, whose name remained on the ballot. Game led by 794 votes, 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent with 93 percent of the vote counted.

"Floridians across the state sent a strong message that this state is ready for a new direction," state Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith said..

Democrats needed to gain seats to slow down what has been a runaway GOP Legislature in recent years. Republicans went into the election controlling the Senate by a 28-12 margin and had 81 of the 120 seats in the House of Representatives.

Two former chamber leaders sought comebacks. One made it, one didn't.

Former Republican Senate President Tom Lee of Brandon defeated political newcomer Elizabeth Belcher of Seffner, while former Democratic House Speaker Tom Gustafson from Fort Lauderdale fell short in his bid for a return to the Capitol after an absence of 22 years.

Lee, whose political career appeared over six years ago when he was defeated by Alex Sink for the Cabinet position of chief financial officer, had 54.2 percent of the vote with 98 percent of the vote counted.

Gustafson, who served as speaker in 1989-90, was rebuffed by first-term Republican Rep. Bill Hager of Boca Raton, who received 52.2 percent of the vote.

Former Republican Nancy Argenziano fell short in her bid to become the first independent to win a legislative seat in 40 years when she was defeated by first-term Republican Rep. Jimmie Smith. With all but one precinct counted, Smith had 57.9 percent of the vote.

Tuesday's heavy turnout wasn't surprising in the nation's largest swing state in what was expected to be a razor-thin contest between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Florida voters were also casting ballots in a U.S. Senate race, Congress and 11 constitutional amendments. Three state Supreme Court justices also faced retention votes.

Multipage ballots, high voter turnout and a shortened early voting period contributed to the long lines at many polling precincts before early voting ended Saturday. A judge in Orange County extended early voting at one location Sunday because it had been suspended the previous day after a suspicious package was discovered. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties opened their elections offices Sunday to accept absentee ballots.

More than 4.5 million people — about 38 percent of the Florida electorate — voted before Election Day, either by mail or in person.

Ten members of Florida's 40-seat Senate were elected on virtue of not being opposed, while 45 of the 120 House seats were settled before Election Day.

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Associated Press writers Tamara Lush contributed to this report from St. Petersburg, Suzette Laboy from Hialeah and Kathy Wingard from Cape Coral.

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