Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd reacted angrily Saturday to a last-minute mailer by Ross Spano's campaign for Congress that Judd said implies he has the sheriff's endorsement.
Judd said he refused to endorse Spano after Spano voted "no" on the school safety bill in last spring's legislative session.
"I'm fired up about it," Judd said in an interview.
Spano, a state House member from Dover, is competing with former state Rep. Neil Combee and three other candidates in a hard-fought Republican primary for the U.S. House District 15 seat being vacated by Dennis Ross.
Judd said the mailer uses a photo from a news conference he held with Spano during the legislative session to propose their own plan for school safety following the Parkland high school shootings.
But Spano eventually voted against the bill that finally passed.
Some Democrats objected to the final bill because it includes plans for arming school personnel but not the restrictions they wanted on gun sales. Some Republicans also opposed it because it imposes an age limit of 21 on rifle purchases, a provision opposed by the NRA.
"There was something in that bill for everyone not to like, but at the end of the day I supported it for the sake of the children," Judd said.
When Spano later asked for his endorsement, Judd said, he refused.
"I told him, 'You cast a political vote.' You're saying, 'My political future's more important than keeping the children safe.' "
He said Spano's mailer "clearly gives the indication I have endorsed him. He's misleading the voters, misleading the community. That's not who we need in Congress, somebody that will mislead."
Spano and a campaign spokesman did not immediately return calls for comment.
Because District 15 is split between Polk and Hillsborough County, candidates including Combee, from Polk, and Spano, from Hillsborough, have eagerly sought support across the county line.