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  1. Florida Politics

Bowen: Slim primary victory for Mariano could affect daughter's House bid

Among the Hermine-delayed political digesting that followed the Aug. 30 primary election was a juicy little morsel that surprised even the benefiting candidate.

Of the more than 13,000 Republican voters who cast their ballots by mail, the plurality picked challenger Chris Cooley in the District 5 Pasco County Commission race over three-term incumbent Jack Mariano.

"I didn't know that,'' Cooley admitted three days after the election.

Yep. In the vote-by-mail total, Cooley received 6,551 votes, a 34-vote advantage over Mariano. The incumbent, however, won both the early-voting and election day tallies to earn his fourth term with 52.1 percent of the vote.

Mariano credited his victory to multiple factors, including an endorsement from Sheriff Chris Nocco, an emphasis on job creation in his campaign and his constituent service in places like Summertree, where residents had fought for years with a private utility over the quality of their drinking water.

Not mentioned was a write-in candidate who kept Democrats and no-party voters from casting ballots in the race.

"If Jack and his friends hadn't disenfranchised two-thirds of the voters, we'd be talking about Commissioner Cooley today, not Commissioner Mariano,'' said Cooley's political consultant, Brian Goff.

It's an interesting thought, considering Mariano's campaign portrayed Cooley as a closet Democrat fond of switching his party affiliation. Yet, nearly half of the die-hard Republican voters participating in the primary picked Cooley anyway.

The postmortem on the District 5 race is worth thorough study because there is another Mariano on the ballot in November. Amber Mariano, the commissioner's 20-year-old daughter, is challenging state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, for the District 36 House seat representing west Pasco.

Meanwhile, future House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has said House Republicans would be targeting the District 36 seat in this election.

"We look at where the best chances are to gain and where do we have to double down to protect our incumbents,'' Corcoran said.

The question becomes whether it will be a broad targeting, considering the Mariano name isn't quite as popular among Republican voters as the GOP believed. Frankly, though, any name recognition for the younger Mariano, because of her father, is a plus.

"My daughter, I think she's going to do a great job,'' said the proud father. "She is someone who has this passion right in front of her. I think she'll be fine.''

But, will the campaign pursue a take-no-prisoners, scorched-Earth approach like the Corcoran-backed effort that pushed Gary Joiner to a Republican primary victory over four-term Commissioner Ted Schrader in the race for the open property appraiser's seat?

Don't count on it.

Or will the assist to Amber Mariano be something like this? Take a poll. Publish some advertising. Take another poll. If the meter hasn't moved, abandon the candidate.

Perhaps, not even that.

Most likely, any help to Amber Mariano will be tied to the presidential election. If Republican nominee Donald Trump polls well in District 36, then Mariano could be the benefactor of a Republican campaign trying to tie Murphy to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"Common sense would tell you that there really shouldn't be a race between a 20-year-old kid and someone who has been representing the community for years,'' said Goff. "But, in a year with Trump at the top of the ticket, anything can happen.''

Goff, incidentally, knows District 36 well. He is Murphy's former legislative assistant and also is working on her re-election campaign.

There also is the wildcard who orchestrated Joiner's successful campaign — Tax Collector Mike Fasano. He has crossed party lines to endorse Murphy in previous elections.

"Mike Fasano is always going to be an asset,'' said Murphy. "People love and admire him. He has built trust with everyone.''

But Murphy is not complacent.

"I can't take anything for granted,'' she said. "But, I feel like the community is behind me.''

And that, to some GOP dismay, would be a bipartisan community. Last week, Murphy said, the volunteers who walked precincts with her included five registered Republicans.

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