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A primary season so nasty, the local GOP leader takes to Facebook: ‘STOP NOW!’

Candidates in county commission, legislative and other races are hurling unusual volumes of mud, most in the form of scurrilous attack mailers clogging voters’ mailboxes.

A badly faked picture of Ronda Storms in a recliner eating chips. A phony copy of the elections supervisor's official web page. A lawsuit by an outraged legislative candidate. A Facebook invitation from a candidate's father challenging an opponent's backer to meet and duke it out.

All are part of what some Hillsborough County Republicans are calling an unusually nasty primary election.

Candidates in county commission, legislative and other races are hurling unusual volumes of mud, most in the form of scurrilous attack mailers clogging voters' mailboxes.

"Instead of the usual occasional negative mailer, it's a daily dirt barrage," said Mark Proctor, a local Republican political consultant.

"It's a shame. It turns off voters," Proctor said.

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, says he "can't recall a primary election cycle this nasty."

Orders to knock it off are coming from the top.

"I … demand the candidates, their campaigns and their political associates to IMMEDIATELY CEASE AND DESIST AND STOP NOW!!!" Hillsborough County GOP Chairman Jim Waurishuk wrote on the party's Facebook page last week, angrily wielding the caps-lock key.

Waurishuk didn't name any names, but several of the nastiest local primary battles involve Tampa-based GOP political consultant Anthony Pedicini, who's been linked in the past to negative campaigning through shell political committees.

Pedicini works in several local contested primaries that make use of insults, including Todd Marks in the county commission District 7 race against Aakash Patel; Neil Combee in the congressional District 15 race against Ross Spano and others; Joe Wicker in state House District 59 against Storms; and Sean McCoy in the House District 57 race against Mike Beltran.

Beltran, a lawyer, is suing Pedicini, McCoy and Bill Helmich, a Tallahassee political consultant, alleging defamation in the attacks.

Helmich heads a political committee, Veterans for Truth, that formed Aug. 8 and has sent half a dozen or so mailers against Beltran.

The mailers would have cost thousands, but according to the committee's campaign finance reports, it sent them without spending any money.

The committee reported no expenditures and only $50 in contributions through Aug. 18, even though Beltran said the mailers started hitting mailboxes well before Aug. 18 and all arrived within a few days afterward.

Pedicini, Helmich, McCoy and David Ramba, a Tallahassee lobbyist listed as the committee's registered agent, didn't respond to messages seeking comment.

The mailers portrayed Beltran falsely, he said – as someone who "helps illegal aliens get back out on the streets," and as a supporter of Democratic presidential candidates.

That's typical of the attack themes: They portray the opponent is a tax-loving liberal, soft on illegal immigrants, not a true Trump backer, and or as having something, usually ill-defined, to do with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. They're sometimes based on kernels of fact, but exaggerated or distorted.

Ronda Storms said another committee, Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts, has sent out around a dozen mailers attacking her.

Nonetheless, it reported it hasn't received or spent any money since October.

That committee formed in September just before a Republican state House special election primary between Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure. It sent out a barrage of negative mail pieces against Fry, but also reported receiving and spending no money until after the election was over.

Pedicini worked for McClure, who won the primary and the House seat.

One of the anti-Storms mailers shows a faked image of Storms lying in a recliner eating potato chips.

"When President Trump needed Ronda Storms, Ronda Storms stayed home," it says.

"They added a few pounds to my face," Storms said.

In the Marks-Patel race, a website popped up recently imitating the county Election Supervisor's web site. It's instead of The link takes the unwary to a site that looks official but includes a collection of mailers and videos trashing Patel as a liberal who wants "$3.5 billion in new taxes."

The mailers and videos come from the Marks campaign and a committee called Make America Great Again PC, which received $25,000 recently from east Hillsborough conservative activist and donor Sam Rashid, who opposes Patel.

Rashid declined to say whether he knows who's responsible for the website, but said, "I think it's absolutely ingenious."

In response, Patel's father, Minesh Patel, wrote a post on Rashid's Facebook page accusing him of being a "terrorist" and "a pakistani descendent that hid Bin Laden" and offering "to meet with you alone without any of your goons carrying AK-47's."

"I don't even have a basement," quipped Rashid, whose family immigrated from Pakistan in 1971.

In the Combee-Spano race, each side has accused the other of being insufficiently ardent in backing Trump.

Spano's campaign based its attacks on social media postings by Combee during the 2016 presidential primary, in which he initially backed Ted Cruz.