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Attack ads fly between candidates for House District 36 seat

NEW PORT RICHEY — The mailer shows a sepia-and-white image of Republican Bill Gunter and labels him "everything that's wrong with Tallahassee politics."

Another shows Democrat Amanda Murphy and a postcard that reads, "Just wanted to write you a quick note from my vacation home in Cancun, Mexico."

The mailer says: "It's bad enough we can't trust Amanda Murphy with our money, but with two vacation homes around the world, can Amanda Murphy really relate to the challenges we face?"

With only two weeks to go, the campaigns for House District 36 as well as outside groups are pouring resources into tearing down the opposing candidate, and experts say voters should expect more such messages turning up in mailboxes and on TV as the Oct. 15 election nears. Campaign finance reports show both candidates have raised tens of thousands in campaign dollars.

"For the next two weeks, voters will probably see nothing but negative advertising," said former state Rep. Mike Fasano, whose decision in August to become Pasco's tax collector set the stage for the election in District 36 in west Pasco.

Fasano figures the campaigns are turning negative because the candidates are polling even or closely.

Jim Mathieu, chairman of the GOP in Pasco, says he wouldn't be surprised if the negative advertising continues — not because of what polls show but because "it works" and has worked for years.

"There's been studies done," he said. "Regretfully for the voter, everybody complains about negative ads, but it works and everybody does it because it works."

That doesn't mean that what emerges is true or even relevant.

Take the claim by the conservative Citizens for Fairness that Murphy has two vacation homes "around the world," including in Cancun, to suggest she's so wealthy she's out of touch.

Murphy owns a timeshare in Cocoa Beach and part of a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas — not Cancun — that's worth $7,124, according to election reports.

Other ads refer to her as a "Wall Street broker" when in reality she works as an investment adviser at Raymond James in Tampa.

Gunter, meanwhile, is portrayed as a pal to Gov. Rick Scott and "special interests" — all photographed in black-and-white for maximum sleaze effect, including the unnamed "special interest" guy, who's dressed like Scott.

Another mailer calls Gunter "an extremist politician." Both are paid for by the Florida Democratic Party.

Gunter says he doesn't focus on the advertising side of his campaign and that the attacks on him "are part of politics."

"What I try to do is to keep knocking on doors and meeting people and letting them know who I am. I don't have time to worry about this," he said.

Fasano predicted that by the time Election Day arrives the candidates could exhaust not "tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands" in ad dollars.

Both sides see a lot at stake. Democrats hold an edge in registered voters and sense a chance to retake the seat. Republicans, who are out-fundraising Democrats, want to secure the district for next fall's gubernatorial race.

Plus, the race is "the only game in town" so it's drawing attention — and dollars — from outside the area, particularly for Republicans, said Lynn Lindeman, leader of Pasco's Democrats.

"There's an incredible amount of money being thrown into this race," he said.

The bottom line, Fasano and others said, is that as long as the campaigns continue to run neck-and-neck and have the funds, the negative ads will continue.

"They only get to this when it feels desperate and the stakes for both sides are huge," he said.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Attack ads fly between candidates for House District 36 seat 10/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:14pm]
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