BROOKSVILLE — Not long before Dave Bitner died earlier this month, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida came to Blaise Ingoglia with a request.
Roundly praised for progress he'd made in just eight months on the job, Bitner was battling Lou Gehrig's disease and planned to resign effective Sept. 23. Ingoglia, chairman of Hernando County Republican Executive Committee, had been elected to serve as the state party's assistant treasurer at the same time Bitner was elected to chairman.
Bitner endorsed party vice chairman Lenny Curry for the top post and wanted to know if Ingoglia would consider running for the vice chairmanship.
"You can't say no to a leader like David Bitner," Ingoglia, 40, said this week.
Bitner died on Sept. 8. Last Friday, during the Presidency 5 conference in Orlando, the state party's executive board picked Curry for the chairmanship and overwhelmingly elected Ingoglia to serve as interim vice chairman.
He received 20 of the 33 total votes cast for three candidates. The other nominees were Lew Oliver, a longtime state committeeman and chairman of the Orange County REC, and Kathleen King, state party secretary and chair of the Manatee County REC.
Ingoglia will serve at least until January, when the full state executive committee of 257 members will vote to decide who will serve the rest of Curry's term, which ends in January 2013. Ingoglia has already announced to the state committee his intention to run.
"My first priority is to support our new chairman and complete his vision and Dave Bitner's vision for the party," he said.
Deborah Cox-Roush, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County REC and a former state vice chairwoman, nominated Ingoglia. She called him "perfect" for the job.
"He is very in tune to the grass roots across our state and is very good at getting the base excited and organized," Cox-Roush said. "Blaise still has some things to learn, but I think he'll represent the party with honesty and integrity."
Ingoglia's victory marks a new height in his quick rise to prominence in the state party leadership.
Four years ago, the Spring Hill resident was virtually unknown in county politics, a businessman whose company, Hartland Homes, had capitalized on the building boom. By the end of 2007, however, Ingoglia was drawing both praise and criticism for his Government Gone Wild seminars that chronicled what he described as wasteful spending in the county budget.
Ingoglia raised his profile in 2008 by spending his own money to help unseat Democrats Diane Rowden and Chris Kingsley from the County Commission. He also was a vocal critic of Republican Commissioner Jeff Stabins.
He joined the Hernando REC in early 2009. That April, county chairwoman Ana Trinque unexpectedly resigned. Trinque, a friend of Ingoglia's, endorsed him to succeed her, and he was elected without opposition. He was re-elected last December for another two-year term.
"He's absolutely blowing away all records we've had here and I think he can do the same for the Republican Party of Florida," Trinque said this week.
At the same time Ingoglia worked to run the local party, he expanded the scope of the Government Gone Wild seminars to target the federal government.
By the time he was elected to the state party's assistant treasurer position last January — making him the first Hernando resident to serve as an officer on the state committee — Ingoglia had taken the free seminar on the road, further boosting his name recognition in the state party by making presentations to Republican clubs and executive committees.
The Government Gone Wild Facebook page now has about 165,000 followers and the YouTube video has garnered some 6 million views. Ingoglia says he does not draw an income from the effort but does accept donations to cover travel expenses.
Ingoglia served with Oliver as co-chairman of Presidency 5, a three-day event that drew presidential candidates and nearly 5,000 of Florida's most active and influential Republican activists and leaders. Bitner would not live long enough to attend, but he praised Ingoglia's work on the event that has since been hailed by party members as a success, said Clyde Simpson, chairman of the Jefferson County REC.
"He drew a lot of attention because of the faith that Chairman Bitner had in him," said Simpson, who added that he voted for Ingoglia on Friday in part because of Bitner's opinion of him.
Ingoglia takes the post as the two major parties gear up for a pitched battle for the presidency in Florida, the biggest battleground state. Brooksville resident Tom Hogan Sr., who has served as Republican state committeeman for Hernando County for more than four decades, predicts that Ingoglia will work well with Curry.
"I think Blaise will have a lot of input," Hogan said. "He's very, very technology-oriented, and I think that will help."
Ingoglia said he plans to be an active chairman, traveling the state to help the GOP reach out to younger voters and show the kind of tech-savvy, grass roots strength that helped President Obama win the White House.
He demurred when asked if he has designs on the state party chairmanship.
"My goal is to make sure we unseat Barack Obama in 2012 and remove (Democrat) Bill Nelson from the Senate," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]