It's official: The state Senate district stretching from west Pasco to Sumter County will remain intact. The Florida Supreme Court on Friday upheld a new redistricting map for 40 redrawn Senate seats.
The ruling represents a starting gun for what has been a slow-developing race between Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, and east Pasco businessman and egg farmer Wilton Simpson.
"We know the rules of the game now, we know the territory," Simpson said. "It's time to get to work."
District 18, which includes north and west Pasco and all of Hernando, hasn't changed since it was first proposed in December. But the Senate map has taken several legal twists and turns.
The state Supreme Court in March threw out the Legislature's map but also discarded a challenge to the adjacent South Pasco and Carrollwood district held by Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa. Changes to that seat almost certainly would have affected the Legg-Simpson district.
The uncertainty caused candidates and political watchers alike to hold off. There's little reason to criticize your opponent if the district lines suddenly shift and he ends up running for a different seat.
"Some people were hoping and praying, if you will, that the lines would be different," said Sen. Mike Fasano, who is leaving his seat due to term limits and supports Legg as his successor. "But that won't be the case."
Barring the unexpected, the race between two well-funded and well-connected candidates should get exciting.
"We'll have to sit down and look at the map lines and start executing the campaign plan on Monday," Legg said. With a district that starts in Holiday and stops just short of the Villages, he said, "that's a lot of miles that are going to be on the campaign trail."
Each candidate brings a different set of strengths.
Legg's state House district that he has held for eight years is wholly contained in the new Senate district. He can also rely on the network of Fasano, who has represented coastal Pasco and Hernando for the past decade.
Even though the sprawling Senate district covers portions of three counties, a big chunk of the residents live near the coast.
"There's no question that west Pasco will have great input as to who the Republican nominee will be," Fasano said.
Simpson is stronger in rural and agricultural areas and has support from key Hernando figures like retired U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, and her successor, Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill. He also picked up the endorsement this week of Sumter Sheriff Bill Farmer.
Simpson also has the financial edge through the first three months of the year, raising $220,000 to Legg's $147,000.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.