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Democrat won important special election in 2013

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the top stories in Pasco County during 2013 as selected by The Pasco Tribune staff.

NEW PORT RICHEY — She was attacked and outspent, but political newcomer Amanda Murphy became the first Democrat in nearly two decades to represent Pasco County in the Florida Legislature.

Murphy won a narrow victory in the Oct. 15 special election over Republican Bill Gunter. She replaces Mike Fasano, who resigned this year to become Pasco County tax collector after 19 years representing West Pasco voters. In a district that leans Democratic and voted twice for President Obama, the race was decided by the more than 3,000 unaffiliated voters. The two candidates were separated by only 305 votes, according to unofficial returns.

Gunter, a local pastor who challenged County Commissioner Jack Mariano in 2012, was the hand-picked choice of House Speaker Will Weatherford and future Speaker Richard Corcoran. He had the support of Sheriff Chris Nocco and Sen. Marco Rubio — but the county’s Republican Executive Committee endorsed him only after he defeated their own chairman in a three-way primary.

The special election attracted the kind of money and statewide attention rarely seen for a single House race.

The Florida Democratic Party poured in excess of $78,000 in cash and in-kind contributions into Murphy’s campaign — and the state GOP still outspent the Democrats three-to-one. The Republican Party of Florida spent more than $250,000 in its effort to help get Gunter elected.

Gunter won a three-way primary battle in September, beating the chairman of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee.

His loss is a stinging defeat to House leadership — namely Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Corcoran, R-Trinity — who helped steer more than $100,000 from corporations, PACs and lobbyists to Gunter.

Democrats rallied around Murphy, a vice president at Raymond James and first-time candidate who had garnered endorsements from both major newspapers. She also boasted the endorsement of Fasano, which was considered a game-changer.

The outgoing lawmaker went public with his support after an electioneering committee used his name in a direct mail advertisement attacking the Democrat.

The committee, Citizens for Fairness, spent $100,000 on the race. Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross also inserted himself into the race, spending $75,000 on last-minute attack ads on Murphy through his PAC, Florida Jobs First.

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