NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano said he plans to make no endorsement in the race for his old House seat.
"That's my position for the duration of the campaign," Fasano said Wednesday, one day after Bill Gunter soundly defeated two opponents in the GOP primary for House 36.
On Tuesday, Fasano used social media to congratulate Gunter and Amanda Murphy, his Democratic opponent in the Oct. 15 general election. He also warned both against using his name in campaign advertising.
"I would ask them to put the people of Pasco first and not the special interest of Tallahassee and the leadership of their respective party," he said. "I would also ask they run on their own merits and not use my name in their mailers and/or TV commercials."
His comments came after Gunter ran ads promising to represent constituents in Fasano's tradition. Yet, Fasano points out, Gunter opposes accepting federal money to expand Medicaid.
"That is not following in the tradition of Mike Fasano," said the former GOP lawmaker, who bucked House leadership by supporting that part of Obamacare.
The matchup puts Fasano in an awkward position. He is known for butting heads with the GOP leadership and rankled local Republican officials when he continued to support former Gov. Charlie Crist's 2010 U.S. Senate bid after Crist became an independent. (Crist is now a Democrat.)
But Gunter is the church pastor of state Rep. Richard Corcoran, a future House speaker and a longtime friend of Fasano.
An endorsement from Fasano, a 19-year legislator who is popular in the swing district, would be a prize. But Fasano, who was appointed tax collector by Republican Gov. Rick Scott when Mike Olson died in June, faces a 2014 election to keep the job. Endorsing a Democrat might draw a GOP primary opponent.
A local GOP official expressed relief Fasano is staying on the sidelines.
"We were worried he was going to endorse (Amanda) Murphy," said Jim Mathieu, a member of the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee and one of Gunter's two primary opponents.
Mathieu said the party has closed ranks around Gunter, who quickly gained the support of House leadership and raised a large chunk of his $93,000 from Tallahassee lobbyists and political action committees.