EDITOR'S NOTE: A correction notice has been appended to the end of this story.
When state Rep. Peter Nehr was locked in a fierce battle for re-election in 2008, he felt abandoned by many of his fellow Republican Party members.
But at least one prominent Republican stood by him: Gov. Charlie Crist. And that is why Nehr, 58, refuses to separate himself from Crist, who left the Republican Party this year and launched an independent campaign for U.S. Senate.
"Two years ago, a lot of people wrote me off and said I was going to lose my race," said Nehr, who eked out a victory over Democratic challenger Carl Zimmermann.
"They wouldn't support me, or contribute to my campaign, even people I thought were my friends. Even though he knew I was in trouble, Gov. Crist supported me and allowed me to use his name on letters."
But now his loyalty to Crist could hurt him as he seeks a third term in House District 48, which covers much of North Pinellas and a sliver of Pasco County. He has two challengers in the Republican primary Aug. 24: Marg Baker and Steven Mueller, who live a house apart from each another in Palm Harbor.
The winner of the August primary faces Tom McKone, a Democrat who is chairman of the East Lake Fire District Commission.
Baker, who associates herself with the tea party movement, said Nehr should leave the Republican Party.
"He's very liberal," said Baker, 69. "This is not the standing of the Republican Party. Liberalism is not what we are. You really should be a Democrat if you are liberal."
Mueller, 41, said it appears that Nehr and Crist have a long-established friendship and that he didn't have a problem with Nehr supporting him.
Nehr attributed much of the angst towards his Crist support to the tea party movement.
"There is a lot of this that is being stirred by the tea party," Nehr said. "Not that I don't think they have the right to do that; everyone has a right. But it's not an absolute right and everyone has to do what they say.
"I don't think the average person in my district believes that I have to support someone just because the organization tells me to."
As of June 15, there were 38,800 registered Republicans in House District 48 out of 90,812 registered voters.
Baker said she discovered that there's an effort to boot Nehr from the Pinellas Republican Party's executive committee.
She said committee members are required to take a loyalty oath "to only support Republicans and the executive committee is the backer of the people running for office so if you have someone supporting a Democrat or an independent, it might not work."
Nehr acknowledged that some members of the executive committee are calling for his resignation. But he said he never took an oath to support only Republican candidates.
"I am not a regular member of the executive committee, I am an at-large member placed there because I was elected," Nehr said. "Everyone else has to sign a sworn oath. I didn't, so I'm not in violation because I did not swear an oath at all.
"Just because someone supports a candidate, it doesn't mean they are not a Republican and it doesn't mean I don't believe in Republican principles even though I support Charlie Crist."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.
CORRECTION: Marg Baker is 69 years old. Earlier versions of this article appearing in print and online gave an incorrect age.