Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Politics

Pasco and Hernando districts are similar; will the results be, too?

A moderate Democrat with a modest war chest is matched up against a much better-funded Republican closely tied to the party.

The Democrat seizes on the Republican-led state Legislature's rejection of a decade's worth of Medicaid money — $51 billion in total — as a sign that the opponent's party has truly lost its way.

And kind words from a popular maverick Republican, Pasco County Tax Collector and former state Rep. Mike Fasano, prove to be a big boost among the vast numbers of nonaffiliated voters in a county that hadn't elected a Democratic state lawmaker in roughly two decades.

All that describes the race in Florida House District 36, in western Pasco County, recently won by Democrat Amanda Murphy.

And, who knows, it might also describe next year's election in Hernando's District 35, where Democratic candidate and former Republican David Welch has challenged Republican Blaise Ingoglia, who is not only close to the party, but a big part of it. His jobs as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and chairman of the party in Hernando helped him raise about $110,000 before Welch even entered the race two weeks ago.

I know. The election is still a long way off. It is impossible to know, for example, whether Welch's backing of Obamacare will turn out well or disastrously. And the timing of the Pasco election, coming at the peak of disgust with Washington Republicans, was ideal.

Murphy's Republican opponent, Bill Gunter, obliged her by saying that rejecting Medicaid money for struggling Floridians was a fine idea. Ingoglia, at least in the statements I've seen (he didn't return a phone call seeking an interview), hasn't said much about it.

And, finally, I should point out an obvious difference in the two districts: Democrats enjoy a slight lead in the number of registered voters in the one in Pasco, while Republicans lead by about 3,000 in the Hernando district.

But the advantages of either party are dwarfed by the number of voters without party affiliation — more than 22,000 in District 35.

The district in Hernando is also a lot less Republican than it was before the 2012 redistricting. Gated communities in northwest Hernando and slices of Sumter and Pasco counties — all bright red — were replaced with a more centrist section of northern Hernando.

And if the two districts are now closer in party affiliation, they are almost identical in other ways: about 90 percent white, average age of 46, large numbers of transplanted, not especially hard-line, New York Republicans.

County Commission Chairman David Russell, the former state representative who introduced Ingoglia's campaign announcement, watched Murphy's race closely because of the similarities, he said. He does not, however, expect the same results.

I'm not so sure, especially because Ingoglia, a homebuilder, is known for things like fueling the speculative real estate market and falling behind on his personal property taxes while Welch is known as an advocate for the mentally ill and lowering the cost of sinkhole coverage.

Which is how he got to know Fasano, who has not endorsed him, as he did Murphy, but has given him his trademark seal of approval.

Welch, he said, "would be a great representative for the little guy and gal."

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