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GOP hopefuls, leaders shun idea of write-in to close Pasco schools superintendent's race

LAND O'LAKES — Democrats might get to vote in Pasco County's school superintendent race even if, as appears likely, no Democrats run for the seat.

The leading Republican candidates and the head of the county Republican party have said they will not take steps to close the Aug. 14 primary between incumbent Heather Fiorentino and former secretary of state Kurt Browning by recruiting write-ins.

"We feel a Republican is going to win it either way," local GOP chairman Randy Maggard said. "So we're going to let this race run."

It's not unheard-of for parties or hopefuls to close their primary by seeking a write-in candidate to appear on the general election ballot. Write-ins closed high-profile GOP primaries in 2004 between Fiorentino and Chuck Rushe; and in 2008 between County Commissioner Ted Schrader and challenger John Nicolette. The practice is prevalent enough to spur efforts by some lawmakers to try to prevent it.

Both Fiorentino and Browning said they won't seek any write-ins.

"I don't think that's healthy," Browning said. "That's not the way that I roll."

Fiorentino agreed.

"I would have preferred not to have anyone in the race," she said. "I've never asked anybody to do it."

They didn't exactly have plans to stand in the way of anyone else who aims to close off the primary, though.

"There are those in the party that think if there are only Republicans on there, only Republicans should vote," Browning said.

Added Fiorentino: "I would never tell anyone not to run. It's not my place."

Republican state committeeman Bill Bunting, who has recruited write-ins in the past, suggested that in this particular race, "if somebody is going to do it, it may come back to bite them."

He fully expected the superintendent to be selected during the Republican primary, but also that the primary will be open.

"You've got two qualified candidates," Browning said. "I think they should both run on their records."

Pasco Democratic Party chairman Lynn Lindeman sounded hopeful that all Pasco County voters would get a chance to participate in this high profile race between two "very strong candidates." Another potential challenger, Moon Lake construction worker Kenneth Benson, also has filed papers to run for superintendent as a Republican.

"I'm against anything that reduces the ability of people to practice democracy," Lindeman said. "I don't favor sneaky tricks."

He did not have names of any Democrats who might enter the race.

"Do you know of any?" Lindeman said with a laugh when asked about his party's prospects for the race. "No one has contacted me yet, nor have I been able to ascertain that someone is interested."

A Democrat still could jump into the race. By the calendar, time remains, as qualifying does not officially take place until June.

In politics, though, name recognition is key. And with two big name candidates already out gathering support and collecting campaign contributions, a lesser known hopeful would need as much time as possible to compete.

On that front, observers suggest, the days are clicking by quickly.

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb has said she has not been contacted by anyone else interested in the position. Lindeman said he's not looking, either.

"It is not a targeted position for us in this election year," he said of the superintendent's job. "There are other positions that we think are more important."

In 2008, Fiorentino defeated teacher Steve Donaldson, a Democrat, with 53.2 percent of the vote to win her second term.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

GOP hopefuls, leaders shun idea of write-in to close Pasco schools superintendent's race 03/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 1:54pm]
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