Amanda Murphy is on her way to Tallahassee, but the real winner is Mike Fasano.
Murphy edged Republican Bill Gunter to win the Florida House seat Fasano used to hold before accepting Rick Scotts offer to become Pasco County tax collector. Despite being a Republican legislator for almost 20 years, even serving in the GOP leadership, Fasano repaid Scotts appointment by campaigning for Democrat Murphy.
Polls showed Fasanos endorsement would make a difference and it did. With such a close margin of victory, the longtime Pasco politician was clearly responsible for Murphy crossing the finish line ahead of Gunter.
Gunter was not exactly the best candidate Republicans could have offered. He had to move into the district. There were also questions about Gunters past, including run-ins with the law and drug use. Even worse, Gunter didnt bother to include his past criminal activities when he applied for positions in law enforcement and with public schools. Sure, most voters are going to overlook some exaggerations and omissions on a politicians resume -- but not when it comes to positions dealing with public safety and with children.
To his credit, Gunter certainly turned his life around and is well-respected in the community for his religious leadership. He also played football at the University of Florida under Steve Spurrier.
Despite these positives, Gunter was a flawed candidate. Republicans spent big for Gunter but they couldnt overcome Fasanos endorsement. Its a testament to his popularity that he was able to propel Murphy to victory despite the Republican effort.
Gunters not the only Republican who lost big on Tuesday night. Pasco Countys own Richard Corcoran, who is lined up to be House speaker in the 2017-2018 sessions, was Gunters biggest patron. Corcoran urged Gunter to jump into the race despite all the baggage. Will Weatherford, the Pasco County Republican currently serving as speaker, was also a Gunter supporter though he did not go all-in like Corcoran.
Democrats will claim Murphys win on Tuesday portends well for them in 2014 when Scott runs for a second term. But the real message here is Mike Fasano stands atop the Pasco County political pyramid and nobody -- not even the local legislators who control the House in Tallahassee -- stands taller there. Its something to keep in mind as Fasanos old ally Charlie Crist takes on Scott in 2014.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.