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College student draws support of political group in primary race

Richard Skandera is a college student who works part time at Walt Disney. The $2,015.92 he has used to run for state Senate came out of his own pocket. He campaigns against special interest money.

The folks at People for a Better Florida Fund Inc. like what they see.

"Call Richard Skandera and thank him for offering real Democratic leadership," reads one of a flurry of last-minute mailings that the independent political group sent this week.

The mailings also happened to blast Skandera's opponent in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Fred Taylor, who was recruited by party leaders who want to unseat state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, in November.

And Fasano is endorsed by the Florida Medical Association, a medical and hospital lobby connected to the People for a Better Florida Fund.

"I was unaware (of the mailings). I don't get involved in Democratic primaries," said Fasano, the part-time community relations director at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. "I'm sure I'll see a few of them doing negative pieces on me in the fall."

Two mailers by the group ripped Taylor for being a former Republican. Skandera also said he received a recorded call from the group attacking Taylor.

Taylor recoiled at the fund's ads calling him a "political chameleon" and an "opportunist" so close to an election in which he's had only a slightly higher profile than Skandera. Until this month, Taylor raised only $18,000. The Florida Democratic Party spent $46,000 to build his campaign.

He fears the mailings could affect voters' sentiments and unsettle his plans.

Taylor, 60, a New Port Richey businessman and Vietnam veteran, said he became a Democrat in 2005 after he grew disillusioned with the GOP. But he also acknowledged Republican leaders including Fasano wouldn't support him running for Congress, instead backing Gus Bilirakis for the seat he ultimately won. So Taylor ran a short, unsuccessful bid as a Democrat.

"Sen. Fasano and his special interest cronies have launched a negative campaign against my record because, frankly, they can't defend his," Taylor said in a statement.

His campaign also noted Fasano has received at least $217,000 from medical interests since 1996, and accused him of putting business profits ahead of patients.

A Times review shows Fasano has received at least $76,000 for this campaign from medical interests, including $500 from the Florida Medical Association's own political action committee.

"Mr. Taylor should focus on the primary and not take it for granted," Fasano said.

The FMA did not return a call seeking comment. Its lobbyist and executive, Tim Stapleton, also helps run the People for a Better Florida Fund.

Skandera, 21, of Palm Harbor said he's baffled by the group's support for him. He said it proves to him that more restrictions need to be placed on contributions to and from independent groups.

"But I do wish they would have given out my phone number" in the mailing, Skandera said. "I've been trying to get that out."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

College student draws support of political group in primary race 08/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2008 9:06pm]
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