Atwater, Bondi, Putnam endorse Simpson in Pasco County Senate race
All three members of the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday announced their endorsement of Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, in a Pasco County Senate primary race between Simpson and another incumbent, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity.
The announcements from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater come just one day after Legg and Simpson both announced their intentions to seek reelection in District 10. The seat, which includes both sitting senators' homes and parts of their current districts, was created last week by Circuit Judge George Reynolds' ruling in a redistricting trial.
"I have known Wilton Simpson for years, both as a close friend and as a partner in the legislative process," Bondi said in a statement released by the Simpson campaign Wednesday. "He is conservative, thoughtful, and diligent in serving his constituents."
The support of three of the state's most popular Republicans would be a huge asset for Simpson, not to mention their combined firepower in raising money for a campaign. It will be tough for Legg to compete.
Still, he does have support of one of Pasco's most prominent Republicans. Longtime legislator Mike Fasano, now the Pasco County tax collector, endorsed Legg almost immediately Tuesday.
"Look forward to helping my longtime friend John Legg in the new SD 10 where I had the honor to represent for 10yrs in all 3 Counties," he wrote on Twitter.
But Legg appears to be taking a step back from his initial, full-throttle challenge of Simpson, even before the Cabinet endorsements were announced Wednesday.
"My focus from now until the end of session will be legislation and serving existing District 17 not re-election," he told the Times/Herald early Wednesday. "I was elected to serve this year and have huge responsibility as chair of education that must take priority. When session concludes, we will look at campaign issues. I owe that to those who already voted for me."
The new district covers much of Pasco, as well as all of Hernando and Citrus counties. But the race could determine more than just the area's next senator.
Simpson is in line to be Senate president from 2020-2022, the first ever from Pasco County. And while Legg initially said he would not get in the way of Simpson's presidency, he told the Times/Herald Tuesday that he did not want to move adn that there were other districts Simpson could run in.
Simpson declared that he would not leave his family farm, which he and his father built.
“This is where I live,” Simpson said.
It could also be a last vestige of an ongoing feud between two Republican factions in the Senate, allied with President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who came up short in the race to lead the chamber next year. Legg is an ardent ally of Latvala, and Simpson is a Negron supporter.