PEPPER SEAT ALSO UP FOR GRABS

The passing of Rep. Claude Pepper (D) of Florida, whose larger-than-life national status made his congressional seat untouchable, has unleashed a frenzy of speculation and politicking over his replacement. The GOP believes it can win the seat, which covers most of Miami and Miami Beach and some suburban areas.

But Dade County Democratic Chairman Simon Ferro disagrees. ``As far as we are concerned, this is going to be the Claude Pepper memorial seat.''

Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, coming off a lopsided reelection victory in 1987, is among the likely Democratic candidates to replace Pepper.

Another is Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. The Cuban-born mayor said he would not comment on his plans until later this week.

Other Democratic speculation has focused upon state Sen. Jack Gordon, who shares most of Pepper's constituency and liberalism. But Mr. Gordon may be hurt by his opposition to aid to the Nicaraguan contras, which cause is popular among local Hispanics.

The Republicans have several promising Hispanic politicians to field.

State Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Al Gutman and state Sen. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are among those mentioned most often.

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