PORT RICHEY — The campaign for House District 36 in west Pasco took a few twists Thursday starting with an endorsement by former Gov. Charlie Crist and ending with the disclosure by former state Rep. Mike Fasano that he voted this week for Democrat Amanda Murphy.
"It's all about Amanda, and in 12 days she will be elected as state representative," Crist told 60 or so Murphy supporters at a campaign rally Thursday at the Jasmine Lakes community center.
"In 12 days we will have someone return to Tallahassee who cares about people first, just like Mike Fasano did and still does," said Crist, a former Republican.
Murphy said she met Crist years ago at a campaign event. Murphy is running for the House District 36 seat vacated by Fasano when he was appointed Pasco's tax collector in August.
She's making her first run at political office. Her opponent, Bill Gunter, a Presbyterian minister, is making his second bid, having lost in last year's Republican primary to Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano.
With less than two weeks until the Oct. 15 election, both candidates are ramping up efforts to reach voters and appeal to party leaders for support.
Over the past week, Murphy unveiled a laundry list of endorsements, including from some prominent Republicans. Gunter struck back late Tuesday, announcing he had been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Throughout it all, Fasano stayed mum.
A Republican with broad bi-partisan appeal, Fasano vowed during the campaign to not endorse any candidate.
He said he wanted a representative in Tallahassee who would fight special interests and cross party lines if necessary to help Pasco residents.
"It's not about the party. It's about the person," he said.
But by late Thursday afternoon Fasano's silence had ended. He said he voted for Murphy on Monday or Tuesday using an absentee ballot.
"Bill Gunter is a fine gentleman and a great guy, but I have a great deal of concern that if he's elected he will just follow the party line," Fasano said.
"I think Amanda Murphy will be someone who will support the uninsured and under-insured in Pasco County. There are 90,000 people in Pasco County who don't have access to primary care either because they have no insurance or they are under-insured," he said.
Fasano stopped short of publicly endorsing Murphy, saying, "This was my own personal vote."
His disclosure came after a Murphy campaign mailer taking aim at Gunter started arriving in mailboxes Thursday.
The mailer described Gunter as puppet of Gov. Rick Scott, with the line, "Our former state Senator, Mike Fasano, refused to support fellow Republican Gunter. Why? Because he'll be just another vote for Rick Scott's extreme agenda."
News about the flier set off speculation about how Fasano would react.
A couple days earlier, he was irked when a mailer attacking Murphy hit west Pasco mailboxes. The mailer made reference to Fasano despite his insistence after last month's primary that his name not be used in campaign literature.
But by Thursday after the Murphy mailer arrived Fasano had cooled off, saying there wasn't much he could do to prevent either side from referring to him.
"I guess neither side is listening to me," he said, laughing.
He added later, "I have said this before and will say it again, take everything you get in the mail with a grain of salt."