NEW PORT RICHEY — Democrat Amanda Murphy's win in Tuesday's special election surprised some, but more eyebrows were raised by the fact she won despite better Republican turnout.
"That tells me one thing," former state Rep. Mike Fasano said. "That Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Amanda, and she got more independent votes."
That's surprising considering Murphy's opponent, Republican Bill Gunter, raised nearly three times as much in campaign contributions and racked up endorsements from top Republican leaders such as state House Speaker Will Weatherford, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
But as the sun set on Tuesday's House District 36 race and the votes were tallied, Murphy never yielded ground — even though unofficial returns showed more Republicans at the polls than Democrats and more Republicans voting absentee.
Murphy led in absentee and early voting, and after all the ballots were counted held a 305-vote lead, sealing her victory.
Some election watchers blamed "the Fasano effect."
Fasano triggered the special election when he resigned from the district in August to become Pasco's tax collector. After vowing to stay neutral in the race, he revealed he voted absentee for Murphy and urged others to back her as well. Then he formally endorsed her in a television appearance Friday.
"It had to help. Mike Fasano is extremely well-liked," James Mathieu, chair of Pasco's Republicans, said. "It resonates with voters that Mike Fasano is for the little guy, as he would put it."
Telephone polls by Republicans asking about Fasano's endorsement confirmed it mattered who he would support, Republican Committeeman Bill Bunting said.
"I think there's no question he had a large influence," he said.
Count Christy Falke, 60, a registered independent, among those swayed by Fasano.
"We've always been big supporters of (Fasano)," she said. "He is a man that stands behind what he says. Her and Mike Fasano together with their visions, I think that is something that our area needs."
Also helping was that Murphy showed up at Falke's Bayonet Point neighborhood stumping for votes. "She's personable," she said. "She even came to my door."
Lynn Lindeman, Democratic Party chair in Pasco, offered a different take on Murphy's win.
Deserved or not, voters perceived Gunter as tied to politics-as-usual in Tallahassee, Lindeman said.
"You can't buy elections if people aren't satisfied with you as a candidate, with what you represent," he said. "We had a large number of independent voters and a large number of Republicans that crossed over."
Democrats hammered home the theme in scores of ads targeting Gunter's campaign contributions from Tallahassee.
Democrats also benefitted by calling voters who voted absentee and early in the last election to back Murphy in this election. After all the votes were counted, Murphy's 336-vote margin in absentee and early voting put her over the top.
Staff Writer Alex Orlando contributed to this story. Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.