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Write-in candidate joins House 45 race, likely closing primary to GOP voters only

TRINITY — Call Grady Peeler the reluctant political candidate: He has no campaign literature; no platform; no desire, really, to win.

But Peeler, a 58-year-old securities trader who lives in Trinity Oaks, is shaking up the closely watched House 45 race: He has entered as a write-in candidate — a move that will likely turn the race among the three Republicans into a closed GOP primary.

The upshot? Registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters will essentially have no say in picking the person to represent the district that serves parts of south Pasco and north Pinellas counties.

Peeler, who is on Pasco's Republican Executive Committee and has even donated to one of his opponents, said he simply did not want non-Republicans choosing a Republican.

"Primarily the reason I decided to get in it is I want Republicans to vote in Republican primaries and Democrats to vote in Democratic primaries," he said. "I'm telling you quite openly that's why I did it."

Before Peeler, the House 45 seat had only three candidates, all of them Republicans: Fabian Calvo, Richard Corcoran and Kathryn Starkey.

That meant anyone in the district, regardless of affiliation, could vote in the Republican primary coming up in August.

But write-in candidates are considered outside opponents, which closes the primary to party voters only. Hence, Peeler's move.

Peeler is a former homeowners association president who made a short-lived bid for state GOP committeeman back in 2008. He jumped into that race when it appeared that Bill Bunting had no opponent. But after learning John Renke II had entered the race, Peeler urged his own supporters to get behind Renke.

Peeler said he spoke with none of the other House 45 candidates before he made his decision, something reiterated by the trio.

But Peeler, who donated to Ron Paul's presidential campaign in 2008, has a favorite: Calvo.

In fact, he and his wife have donated $325 to Calvo since July.

"I have supported Fabian in the past and I expect I will continue to," he said, adding he likes all three candidates.

Peeler said if Democrats had fielded a candidate, registered Democrats could have a say in the race. That appears increasingly unlikely. Qualifying ends Friday.

Each of the three GOP candidates portrayed the closed primary as advantageous to his or her chances in the race to replace Tom Anderson, who must step down due to term limits.

Calvo, the underdog in the race, is a conservative radio host and has a property management company.

"I'm communicating my message to Republicans, and that's going very well," he said. "I think I have a very good shot."

Corcoran, a close friend of state Sen. Mike Fasano, is a contract attorney for Sheriff Bob White.

"I think it'd be good all the way around for the Republican party," said Corcoran. If the goal is to pick a lifelong conservative candidate, he said, "that works best when it's the lifelong conservative voters voting."

Starkey has served on the Pasco School Board and is a member of a well-known ranching family.

"I think I've always ran my race like I'm in the Republican primary," said Starkey. "I'm a lifelong Republican. It doesn't change my game plan at all. I'm just focusing on the same issues I always have."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Write-in candidate joins House 45 race, likely closing primary to GOP voters only 06/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 10:31pm]
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