For weeks, Democratic leaders stayed tight-lipped when it came to backing a candidate to replace Mike Fasano in the state House, even though three Republicans had already entered the race.
On Wednesday, with less than a week before the filing deadline for the special election for House District 36, a Democrat emerged to challenge them: Amanda Murphy, a Raymond James investment adviser.
"From my perspective, I'm getting in because we need a voice, and this is an opportunity for us to have a voice," said Murphy, 43, who's never run for political office.
She said she was approached by party leaders to challenge Fasano last year but turned them down because she supported his work in Tallahassee.
But on Aug. 7 when the Republican was named Pasco's tax collector, replacing Mike Olson who died June 26, she agreed the timing was right. Party leaders again approached her.
If no other Democrat steps forward by noon Tuesday, Murphy will face the winner of the Sept. 17 Republican primary, as well as a non-party candidate, in the Oct. 15 general election.
Democrats said the delay in announcing was partly a political strategy to scrutinize potential candidates in order to rally behind one and avoid a primary.
"We have all intentions of winning this seat. We do not want a bloody and costly primary," said Chris Mitchell, political director for the Florida House Democrats.
Mitchell said party leaders eyed 20 potential candidates before settling on Murphy. She hadn't run before but grew up in the community and belongs to several civic groups, including Leadership Pasco, the Trinity Rotary and Junior Service League. Her husband, Matthew Murphy, 43, ran unsuccessfully against Republican Kathryn Starkey for Pasco County Commission last year.
Democrats said they want to carry on where Fasano left off by backing a candidate who can appeal to voters across party lines, one of Fasano's attributes. Also, cross-party appeal might help capture District 36, which leans Democrat.
There are 34,926 Democrats to 32,525 Republicans, but also a sizable number of voters affiliated with neither political party: Close to 21,000 list No Party Affiliation on their voter cards. The district runs mostly west of Little Road between the Pinellas and Hernando borders.
"We see this really as a toss-up seat," Mitchell said.
For weeks after Fasano stepped down, speculation surged about the Democrats' choice. As party leaders inched closer to naming a candidate, three Republicans were already campaigning: Bill Gunter, a Presbyterian minister; attorney Jim Mathieu, chairman of the Pasco Republicans; and Jeromy Harding, 23, an insurance agent who's making his first political bid. Also running is no-party candidate Richard Sikes, 36, who helps disabled people find jobs and access to education.
Like Gunter and Harding, Murphy will have to move to the district by election day to meet the residency requirement. She said she and her husband live just outside the district but were thinking about moving prior to her entering the race.