Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Big money, negative ads don't always win in Pasco elections

This week's Pasco Buzz includes a list of winners and losers from Tuesday's primary election.

Who fared well:

Kurt Browning. The Dade City native overcame the "double dipper" charge and cashed in on his long history of public service to oust superintendent Heather Fiorentino. He successfully argued that the job is more about management style and less about an education-heavy resume. Now he's got a good claim as one of the county's most high-profile politicians.

Incumbents not named Fiorentino. Sitting officeholders had a good night, including two county commissioners who weathered fierce challenges. Officials with wide margins of victory include: Sheriff Chris Nocco, Rep.-elect Mike Fasano, Rep. Richard Corcoran and longtime property appraiser Mike Wells. Don't forget about GOP committeeman Bill Bunting, who keeps his unpaid leadership post despite heavy opposition from Fasano.

Mail ballots. More than 16,000 Pasco voters cast their ballots by mail, up 60 percent from two years ago. And no candidate who lead after early and absentee votes were released lost his or her race.

Pasco's legislative delegation. Pasco has almost exactly enough residents for one seat in the state Senate. Tuesday's results mean Pasco will have two resident senators. That's the same number as each of the big boys further south, Pinellas and Hillsborough. Don't forget about Pasco's high-powered House delegation with two future House speakers and a wily legislative veteran.

Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. All of the absentee and early vote tallies were released online at 7:01 p.m. The bulk of Election Day votes were posted within a half hour. There were no reports of election glitches. Sure, it was a relatively low-turnout affair, but Pasco's efficiency wasn't exactly matched by neighboring Pinellas County.

A mixed bag:

Money. Most of the candidates who won in Pasco had huge fundraising leads or were helped by spending from outside groups. It doesn't replace fired-up supporters or an appealing message, but loads of campaign cash sure helps.

There were two exceptions. Citrus grower Ron Oakley invested nearly $175,000 of his own cash to challenge Commissioner Ted Schrader. Oakley ended up 6 points behind and essentially tied with GOP activist Rachel O'Connor, whose final tally impressed several politicos. District 5 candidate Bill Gunter trailed Commissioner Jack Mariano in campaign money (and ultimately lost by less than 700 votes), but he benefitted from a barrage of outside advertising aimed at the incumbent.

Randy Maggard. The Pasco GOP chairman saw his friend Bunting remain in party leadership as committeeman. That's no small victory considering the amount of money spent to dethrone him.

Maggard also wrote an open letter defending claims of improper party spending. The missive also called on Fasano to switch parties and suggested that the longtime legislator would serve as a running mate if Charlie Crist runs for governor as a Democrat in 2014. The party also gave $5,000 to Fasano's primary opponent, Pasco GOP vice chairman Jim Mathieu, who managed just north of 900 votes in the race. Money well spent?

Some losers:

Turnout. Republican turnout hit 27 percent, a respectable figure that met expectations. But overall, only 16 percent of county voters cast a ballot — the fifth-lowest rate in Florida.

Kudos to these top polling places, which saw turnout above 30 percent: San Antonio City Hall, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in St. Joseph, and Country Place Village Clubhouse in Trinity.

Here's some public shame for the bottom polling sites, where 90 percent of voters didn't bother to cast a ballot: Crest Ridge Gardens Community Club in Holiday, CrossRoads Community United Methodist Church in Wesley Chapel and Wesley Chapel Toyota.

Residency as a campaign issue. Senate hopeful Rob Wallace repeatedly dogged John Legg about whether he lives in Port Richey or Trinity. Legg will soon be sworn in as senator.

Opponents made a big fuss over Kathryn Starkey not living in Commission District 3. She cruised to victory.

Residency arguments make for fun campaign mailers, but it seems they just didn't resonate with voters.

Negative fliers. Fiorentino attacked Browning with a clever ice cream ad that called him a "double dipper." Mariano was dubbed "Junket Jack" by a Tallahassee political committee. One flier from Oakley illustrated Schrader's public service with a pair of grimy hands. It didn't work. Sure, the attacks probably weakened their targets, especially Mariano and Schrader. But they didn't propel their favored candidates to victory.

Public safety unions. Pasco's firefighter and law enforcement unions made a joint endorsement in this year's County Commission races, picking Gunter, Oakley and Starkey. It was an easy choice picking the clear front-runner in Starkey, but the unions made a bad bet by going against the two incumbents.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236. For more political news, visit the Buzz at blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.

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