U.S. Sen. Richard Stone lost his seat in Tuesday's Democratic runoff after turning out a big vote in his south Florida base -- and almost nowhere else.
Florida Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Bill Gunter defeated Stone by 52 percent to 48 percent of the vote, sending him to join three other senators who have been denied their party's nomination this year -- Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) and Donald Stewart (D-Ala.).
The raw totals came to 574,238 for Gunter and 535,671 for Stone, according to unofficial returns.
Stone turned out the Jewish condominiums and piled up 170,000 votes in Dade and Broward counties, home to Miami and Fort Lauderdale. But the big two-to-one margin he posted there against Gunter, a popular and familiar Florida figure, was blown away by Gunter's sweep through nearly all the rest of the state.
Gunter, who comes from central Florida and takes credit for $125 million in auto insurance rebates and reductions during his term, beat Stone soundly in the middle of the state, in North Florida and in the Panhandle.He also chipped away at Stone's lead along the lower southwest coast.
The freshman senator split the Panhandle with Gunter during the Sept. 9 primary and had hoped to do well there in the runoff. But Gunter buried him. p
"I think the Panama Canal vote was a definite factor," Stone said.
Stone's decision to vote for the Panama Canal treaties, after promising in the 1974 race that he wouldn't, was cited by his opponent as an example of flip-flopping.
"I thought it was the most courageous vote of his career," said campaign manager Bill Rubin. "It took its toll."
But Stone had other problems as well. He made so faint an impression in Florida that Republicans liked to call him "the silent senator."
The conservative Gunter will face conservative Paula Hawkins in the general election. The Republican national committeewoman coasted to victory easily in the Republican runoff with Lou Frey Jr., becoming the first woman nominated by either party in Florida for the U.S. Senate.
"If Gunter won, some people doubted very strongly any Republican could beat him," said Bill Taylor, former chairman of the Florida GOP. "You don't have the incumbency to run at."
But Taylor now believes Hawkins can run close to the Democrat, at the very least.
The state's voters are registered 2-to-1 Democratic and have elected only one Republican, Ed Gurney, to the Senate since Reconstruction. But Hawkins has more money than Gunter right now, and her runoff was not as scarring as the Democratic war.
"This is a new ballgame," said Taylor. "It's going to be according to what kind of campaign she runs and how seriously he takes her. If he thinks he's got her beat, she'll eat his lunch."