Republican Pasco County commissioner candidate Gary Bradford has acknowledged that a friend of his filed as a write-in candidate in his race after he explained to Patterson that it would prevent Democrats and independents from voting and possibly help Bradford win.
Bradford is challenging incumbent Republican Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick in a GOP primary, along with first-time office seeker Shannon Wittwer. The winner will have no named competition on the general election ballot.
Fitzpatrick won her west Pasco District 4 seat in 2020 by defeating Bradford in a “universal” or open primary.
Only Republicans filed that year, so the primary decided the race. Under Florida law, that meant all voters could vote in the primary. Fitzpatrick has acknowledged that votes of non-Republicans helped her win.
But under what’s known as the “write-in loophole” in that law, if any other candidate files — even a write-in — the primary is closed and only party members can vote. Write-in candidates don’t have to pay a filing fee and their names don’t appear on the ballot.
Bradford’s friend, Cory Patterson, filed as a write-in two weeks before the qualifying period.
He hasn’t raised any campaign money and records show he has donated $70 to Bradford. According to photos taken by a Fitzpatrick supporter, which she provided to the Tampa Bay Times, he has a Bradford campaign sign in his yard, even though he’s technically running against Bradford.
Fitzpatrick blamed Bradford for closing the primary and disenfranchising the county’s roughly 241,000 Democratic, minor-party and no-party voters.
But in an interview, Bradford denied urging Patterson to file or providing him any incentive, and denied disenfranchising voters.
He said Patterson, a minister at a Lutz church, is a friend of his, and the two had a conversation last spring in which, “I explained the system to him. … Then he did his research and did what he did.”
Bradford said he believes all primaries should be closed.
“I think Republicans should vote on Republican primaries and Democrats on Democrats,” he said. “There are more than 100,000 Democrats in Pasco County, and they can’t find one candidate to run with a “D” by their name? I’m not disenfranchising anybody.”
Patterson didn’t respond to voicemails, emails and text messages seeking comment Tuesday and Wednesday.