Sixteen-year incumbent Pat Mulieri barely held off a challenge Tuesday from fellow Republican Ken Littlefield, squeaking by with little more than half the votes.
Her primary day victory advances her to November's general election, when she will face Land O'Lakes community activist Clay Colson.
Mulieri's win is notable because Littlefield loaned himself his entire campaign coffers and never campaigned very hard against Mulieri.
"I was hoping for a bigger spread," said Mulieri, 72. She said she wasn't sure how to explain it — maybe an anti-incumbent mood, maybe because she didn't show up at as many Republican club meetings.
"Winning is winning," she said, "and I'm pleased."
Littlefield, 66, a former state legislator, said he considered the close race a success.
"Historically, what I've tried to do in this race, it doesn't get done. You can't beat a long-term incumbent in your party," he said. "But I was successful in what I started out to do: give the voters of Pasco a legitimate choice. … I don't know in the 16 years she had this kind of race, that the people in Pasco had this kind of choice."
A retired English professor at Pasco-Hernando Community College, Mulieri is seeking her fifth term on the County Commission.
Hesitant to differentiate himself from a fellow Republican, Littlefield never laid out a strong case against Mulieri. In recent weeks, he began to advertise on political mailers that the way he financed his campaign — without special-interest money — was a plus, though he never mentioned his opponent.
Littlefield, who works at a Dade City funeral home, loaned himself $21,000. Mulieri pulled in $65,620 from various sources, including lawyers, developers, real estate owners and trash haulers. She has about $12,000 left.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.