NEW PORT RICHEY — A mailing from a Miami group told voters that state Sen. Mike Fasano "does some funny things with money … especially when it's yours."
Then another group supporting school vouchers put this in mailboxes: The New Port Richey Republican works "to grow our state's economy and protect our state's jobs."
But one name has been missing from the ads in this campaign: Democrat Fred Taylor, who is trying to unseat Fasano on Tuesday.
With little money to wage a fight, Taylor, 60, of New Port Richey has been forced to take a low-frills approach in the state Senate race for District 11, which includes north Pinellas and the coastal parts of Pasco and Hernando. The recipient of three Purple Hearts, he has highlighted his service to the country. He promises integrity and a common-sense approach.
Fasano, 50, has counted on his reputation for helping constituents and bringing money back to his district, like $7.5-million for a regional hurricane shelter. And then there are his connections.
Gov. Charlie Crist was featured at a fundraiser for him Oct. 13. All Children Matter, a group supporting school vouchers, paid for a TV commercial and the mailing defending him. Fasano has raised more than $600,000 in donations and in-kind support.
In a race that state Democrats had highlighted as a priority, Taylor has received only $75,000 through Oct. 10. Of that, $55,000 came from the Florida Democratic Party, mostly to pay a campaign manager. Without that help, Taylor said he "wouldn't even be competitive." But even the party has its limits.
"After I saw Fasano was having Crist in for a fundraiser, I wrote to the party and asked for someone to come in, like Alex Sink or Bill Nelson. And I didn't get a response," Taylor said, adding later he learned from the party that congressional and other races were higher priorities.
Taylor has gotten a hand indirectly from an outside group linked to Home Shopping Network founder Roy Speer, whose wife has majority ownership of Aloha Utilities, the much-maligned utility that Fasano has blasted for its water service.
At least $70,000 in donations by Interphase Inc. in Odessa, operating at Speer's office, went to a Miami group that paid for at least three fliers ripping Fasano, according to finance records.
Interphase also gave $10,000 in July to the Florida Democratic Party. The consultant for the mailers, Mack Crounse Group in Virginia, lists the Democrats' Senate Victory program as a client on its Web site.
Taylor said he met with Speer only once, and has no knowledge of his plans.
One mailer accused Fasano of voting to make taxpayers pay for his health insurance. In fact, there was no vote, and he uses private insurance as an employee of Morgan Stanley, Fasano said. Mailers also accused him of voting for a large insurance rate increase in 2006. He voted against the final bill.
"Mike is not the largest man in the world, but you won't find a stronger man on the planet," Crist said at fundraiser this month, noting Fasano's fight for lower insurance rates. "He has a backbone of steel. He is the little guy's friend."
Not always, Democrats said.
In 2006, Fasano backtracked after slipping an amendment into an identity theft bill. He dropped it after newspapers disclosed it would exclude Bank of America from a lawsuit. The bank contributed $500 to Fasano later that year, among nearly $50,000 in bank-related donations to his re-election.
The same year, he floated the idea of a sales tax increase in Pasco County to pay for clinics for uninsured residents. Three months earlier, he had taken a $50,000-a-year job with Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, among several local hospitals saying they needed relief from uncompensated care. The tax never took flight.
Fasano said he was studying the issue before joining the hospital.
"I didn't look at it that way, and if people looked at it that way, then I'm sorry," he said.
Taylor has tried to turn his tepid campaign account into an advantage.
"I've accepted no money from any special interest," Taylor said. "Not a penny. None. This will free me up to advance or oppose any piece of legislation."
He has also used his biography. The Vietnam veteran most recently has run a business brokerage, but much of his professional life involved advocating for veterans, including national work.
In June, Taylor accused Fasano of "fooling" Floridians into thinking offshore drilling would provide relief soon from high gas prices. This month, he said he could support offshore drilling as long as other alternative energy sources are explored, among other requirements.
Fasano and Taylor's biggest dispute has been over property insurance.
Taylor has repeatedly accused Fasano of not doing enough to lower rates — or doing the wrong thing because of insurance-related donations.
Taylor said Fasano's success in making sinkhole coverage optional — and not included for some Pasco and Hernando customers unless they specifically request it — was bad for consumers.
"It seems like it ought to be reversed to give people the most protection," Taylor said.
Fasano said it was the right thing to do because it provides relief. He said changes in state law have made property insurance at least easier to handle, notably holding down rates for state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
"Sadly, you're going to have to give something up in order to get lower premiums. But that's no different than any other form of insurance," Fasano said.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.