TRINITY — For months the top two House District 45 Republican candidates had run neck and neck in fundraising, but this past quarter, one of them pulled way ahead.
Lawyer Richard Corcoran raked in almost $50,000, raising his campaign coffers to nearly $98,000. Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey received $15,000 more, bringing her take to just over $67,000.
The other Republican in the race, Clearwater talk-show host Fabian Calvo, now has nearly $12,900 in the bank after raising an additional $5,400 — including $280 from six donors listed as "unknown" on the campaign report. A spokeswoman for the Division of Elections said the office would seek clarification through audit letters. Calvo did not return a phone call Wednesday for comment.
But it is the battle between Corcoran and Starkey that is being most closely watched for the seat in southwest Pasco and north Pinellas, which Rep. Tom Anderson must leave because of term limits.
Corcoran is a close friend of state Sen. Mike Fasano, the powerful New Port Richey Republican, and also works as a lawyer for Sheriff Bob White. Starkey is an outspoken School Board member and former community activist from one of the area's most prominent families.
"Obviously, it's flattering when you get that kind of financial support," Corcoran said Wednesday. But he said he was more proud of having gathered enough signatures to qualify by petition for the race.
"I think the way you win races is grassroots," he said. "We did it the old-fashion way; we went door to door."
Starkey said she, too, was pleased — and not surprised — that Corcoran, who has run unsuccessfully for state office twice before, had pulled in much more money.
"I am very pleased with where I am," she said. "Every time I hold a fundraiser, there are more and more people who want to help."
One of the most interesting names on Starkey's list of contributors this past quarter? William Weatherford.
As in Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican who is in line to be speaker of the House in 2012? The one who said he's staying neutral in the race between two people he considers friends, one of whom is supported by his ally in the Senate?
No, it's his father.
Rep. Weatherford said he didn't know his dad had contributed $100 to Starkey's campaign. In fact, he said he didn't find out until Tuesday night when someone from Corcoran's camp called and asked about the donation to Starkey.
"Richard and Kathryn are both very versed in the issues," Weatherford said Wednesday.
Starkey said the elder Weatherford, a longtime family friend, had given her the donation after attending a fundraiser for her in south Tampa.
But she said the younger Weatherford is behind her decision to enter the House 45 race in the first place.
"Will is the one who recruited me to run for office," she said, noting, too, that her son is friends with Weatherford's brother Drew and that she's watched Weatherford's sister play soccer over the years.
(Weatherford acknowledged having urged Starkey to run but added "I encourage a lot of people to run.")
Corcoran downplayed the significance of the donation, saying Weatherford "has been very good at being equal to everyone."
And Corcoran said he may have a Weatherford relative on his next contributor list. Recently he said he ran into Weatherford's father-in-law, former House speaker Allan Bense.
"He said, 'I'm going to send you a check,' " Corcoran said of Bense. "He said, 'We need your leadership.' "
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.