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Democratic strategist Steve Schale reaches across the aisle to support Ray Pilon in 2016

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Republican state Rep. Ray Pilon has found an unlikely ally in his 2016 House re-election campaign in Sarasota-based District 72: leading Democratic strategist Steve Schale.

Schale appears on the host committee for an upcoming fundraiser for the third-term Republican lawmaker, according to an invitation obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

Schale cited Pilon’s stance this year in a major battle over Medicaid expansion in the statehouse as well as a personal rapport when explaining his across-the-aisle support.

“Both Ray and his son Chad, who was an FJA board member during my time there, are friends,” said Schale, who directed the Florida Justice Association’s political operations between 2010 and 2012.

“But more directly: I talked to a lot of my Republican friends about the need to expand access to affordable health care for working families and frankly, I thought Ray showed real courage breaking from his party to vote for expansion,” Schale said Thursday. “I believe it’s the right thing for me to stand by him.”

The self-described “one-time rising star, now just old grizzled veteran” of Florida politics is best known for playing key roles in the winning campaigns of President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and more recently U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham last November – is in the news once again lately for support a possible White House run by Joe Biden.

Despite those Democratic bona fides, this is not the first time Schale has helped out a member of the other team.

He was proud to knock doors and offer support for personal friends Reps. Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls despite Democratic opponents in 2014 and speaks fondly of House GOP Leader Dana Young as well, among others.

Schale, a longtime lobbyist for whom maintaining relationships with the majority is crucial, said the association with Pilon was a non-issue on Thursday.

Pilon faces Democrat Edward James in his quest for a fourth and final consecutive term in HD 72, a swing district last held by a Democrat when former Rep. Keith Fitzgerald held it from 2007-2011.

“I do like Edward a lot. I wish him nothing but the best,” said Schale.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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