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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Two of Marco Rubio's earliest backers now divided over his campaign

Sen. Marco Rubio with Bill Bunting at a Pasco County Republican event in 2013

Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Marco Rubio with Bill Bunting at a Pasco County Republican event in 2013



They were his earliest believers, situated in the heart of Charlie Crist country.

Tony DiMatteo and Bill Bunting engineered the straw polls that helped Marco Rubio gain momentum against Crist.

But as Rubio mounts another campaign, DiMatteo and Bunting have decidedly different views.

Rubio called Bunting yesterday to ask for his help getting into gun shows, Bunting’s specialty. “He wants to make his case on how important the Senate is going to be on Supreme Court justices,” said Bunting of Pasco County.

“As soon as he picks up the phone and starts calling people, I think within minutes people will be on board,” said Bunting, who recently told us how Rubio lost touch with Florida.

“He’s got a very good shot at winning,” Bunting said. “Marco’s got the experience being in the Senate.”

Rubio won’t be calling DiMatteo. “If it’s between Rubio and a Democrat, I won’t vote in that race,” the Pinellas County Republican said.

DiMatteo has a grudge against Rubio because Rubio did not follow through on what DiMatteo said was a promise to help him become state GOP chairman. “He’s a damn liar and I have no respect for him at all. Everything I say is on the record, by the way.”

DiMatteo was a figure in our “Rise and Stall” profile of Rubio, which explained how Rubio did not maintain relationships with activists in Florida who helped him in 2010.

That could be an issue for Rubio, as we saw yesterday in Panama City. "Nobody knows who Rubio is here," said attorney William G. Harrison Jr.

"Sure we've seen him on TV during the presidential campaign. But around here people know if you have a problem you call Bill Nelson's office and they will take care of it. (Rubio’s) a good guy, but you just don't know who he is. We don't have a connection with him."

DiMatteo says Rubio’s re-election bid is about one thing: “He wants to be president. He’s extremely self-serving.”

But he thinks Rubio will win.

“If (Carlos) Beruff and (Todd) Wilcox stay in there, I think Marco wins easily. If one decides to back the other, leaving one outsider vs. Marco, then it’s different.”

[Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2016 1:38pm]


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