TRINITY — Richard Corcoran says he considers Pasco County home: He went to school and college here. Knocked on doors for Republican political candidates, served as a precinct committeeman, coached basketball in Hudson.
But the state House 45 candidate left home in the early 1990s and has spent most of his professional life elsewhere, including running twice for state office in Citrus County and working for the Republican Party in Tallahassee.
Less than a week before Tuesday's primary, a political committee has turned that absence into a campaign zinger:
"Beware of Corcoran the Carpetbagger," says a new mailer from the Committee for Freedom. "A political opportunist, Richard Corcoran just moved to town 18 months ago. Right after he lost his last election. He's never even voted in our district."
The Committee for Freedom is an electioneering group formed recently by April Schiff, who is the consultant for fellow Republican candidate Kathryn Starkey.
Schiff's group formed after another organization — the Committee to Protect Florida, run by Corcoran consultant Rockie Pennington — sent out mailers attacking Starkey's record on the Pasco School Board and a water basin board.
Corcoran, a lawyer, called Schiff's mailer a "silly and sad" personal attack and said it's incorrect. When he lived in west Pasco, he voted in what was considered the House 45 district until redistricting shifted the lines.
"I'm the only one who grew up here his entire life. One's from out west and the other's from Miami," he said, referring to a third opponent, Fabian Calvo of Clearwater, and Starkey, respectively. "It's silly, it's wrong, it's disappointing that she would allow her camp and her people to engage in these kind of desperate last-minute attacks that are completely false."
Starkey said she didn't know what Schiff's committee was putting out and declined to say whether she thought the word "carpetbagger" was appropriate.
But she said the gist of the mailer is accurate: She's been working in Pasco for decades, and he has not.
"He moved here specifically for this race. It's a different background," she said. "I've not been in the political world so maybe this is common out there. But it surprised me that someone who hadn't lived in a community for 24 years would think he had earned the opportunity to be their representative."
Corcoran has been gone less than 20 years; he graduated from Saint Leo University in 1990 and worked for then-Clerk of Courts Jed Pittman for about a year before leaving for law school.
He made two unsuccessful bids for state office in 1998 and 2007. In one of her own mailers, Starkey also said he "tried to run" in 2008 for a Tampa-based seat vacated by state Rep. Trey Traviesa.
"He submitted his name but he did not make the short list," she said of Corcoran. "It was in the newspaper, I saw it online."
The St. Petersburg Times article quoted a Republican activist saying only that Corcoran's name was in the mix. But Corcoran said he never wanted to run for the seat and that he never turned in any paperwork to do so.
Corcoran said even when he lived somewhere else, he was helping out Republican candidates — from Carl Littlefield to Ted Schrader to Heather Fiorentino and Bob White — for various offices in Pasco County.
He listed the various state representatives who have served District 45 over the years.
"Ask the non-carpetbagging candidate if she can name all the representatives as I just did," he snapped.
Fasano enters the fray
The latest piece attacking Corcoran has generated a response from one of his most powerful allies: state Sen. Mike Fasano.
"Starkey has run the kind of desperate campaign that leaves her integrity in question. She has made exaggerated claims, misinformed voters, and twisted the truth," Fasano says in a new mailer. "I've been active in enough campaigns to know — when a person exhibits these traits as a candidate, you have to worry about how they will act as an elected official."
That new mailer is paid for by — who else? — the Committee to Protect Florida, which got a $50,000 donation from Fasano's political committee.
Starkey said she was taken aback by Fasano's involvement.
"I don't know what he's talking about, one," she said. "But I do know he's contributed $50,000 to pay for the many negative hit pieces, inaccurate hit pieces on me."
Those pieces include such headlines as Taxin' Kathryn, Travelin' Kathryn and Job Killin' Kathryn.
Fasano said that the mailer calling Corcoran a carpetbagger was the final straw for him.
"For me, that went way out of bounds," he said. "I was absolutely surprised by Kathryn. I never thought she'd go to this extreme."
As for Starkey's point that it's hard to go home again?
"What happens if she moves back to Miami, where she's from?" Fasano said. "Would she be called a carpetbagger?"
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.