Bill Gunter, pastor of Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey, won the Republican primary on Tuesday in the special election to replace former Rep. Mike Fasano in the Florida House to represent parts of Pasco County.
Gunter defeated Jim Mathieu, who served as Port Richey city attorney and interim city manager and chaired the Pasco County GOP, and insurance agent Jeromy Keith Harding.
With 97 percent of precincts in and counted, Gunter had 63 percent, Mathieu had 20 percent and Harding 17 percent. Voting was light, with less than 11 percent of Republicans casting their ballots in the primary. Most of the Republicans who took part in the primary voted by absentee ballot.
After his primary win, Gunter will take on Democratic candidate Amanda Murphy, vice president of investments for Raymond James, on Oct. 15 to determine who will replace Fasano. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Fasano Pasco County tax collector in July. The seat represents parts of Pasco County.
Gunter, who played with the Florida Gator football team, won the backing of prominent Republicans including Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. He also got the endorsement of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and the three legislators in line to take over as House speaker, including Pasco Countys own Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who is scheduled to take over as House speaker after the 2016 elections. Corcoran has been one of Gunters chief supporters.
Republicans in Tallahassee quickly lined up behind Gunter Tuesday night.
"I congratulate Bill Gunter on his strong victory tonight, said Incoming House Speaker Steve Criasfulli, R-Merritt Island, who endorsed Gunter in the primary. Bill's history of serving others and his understanding of the needs of the middle class and working families make him best suited to be the next representative from District 36. I look forward to helping his campaign and serving with him in the Florida House of Representatives."
"I am proud that Bill Gunter received his party's nomination tonight, said Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF). Bill understands the constituents of District 36 and is a real leader in his community. I know that he will represent our party well in the general election, and I look forward to seeing him elected to the Florida House of Representatives. The Republican Party of Florida looks forward to helping Bill secure a victory next month.
Democrats signaled on Tuesday they will go all out to win the seat next month."Bill Gunter is the textbook example of a politician who's bought and paid for by the wealthy Tallahassee interests," said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. "Only a paltry 5 percent of Bill Gunter's campaign cash came from Pasco County, and he has raised more money from outside the state of Florida than he has from people in the district he is trying to represent. Amanda Murphy will represent Pasco County as a strong and independent voice committed to creating jobs and investing in education."
While they did not run a candidate to take on Fasano for an open seat in 2012, Democrats have a slight edge in the district with 39 percent of voters belonging to that party while 35 percent are Republicans. Despite that edge, Republicans can do well here and outnumber Democrats in the county. Before being appointed tax collector, Fasano represented this area in the Legislature for almost two decades. In the last gubernatorial election, Republican Rick Scott edged out Democratic nominee Alex Sink by 1 percent here back in 2010.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.