Never mind that the primary is more than a year away. The battle between fellow Republicans Kathryn Starkey and Richard Corcoran for the House District 45 seat is on.
By the fundraising numbers alone, the opponents are neck and neck.
Starkey has raised $52,000 since February, and Corcoran has raised just under $50,000 in the past six weeks.
But their campaign reports also provide a snapshot of how the candidates are tapping into their distinct circles — one of which bears the hand of Sen. Mike Fasano, the popular legislator who is the Senate pro tem. Read the rest of this must-read. “I think it’s a matter of individuals and who they’re loyal to,” said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, a Republican who supports Starkey.
Starkey’s 236 donors include three School Board members, two county commissioners, a former state senator and well-known local lawyers, developers, doctors and business leaders.
Many of them have known Starkey for years, from her time as a community volunteer to her last two terms on the School Board.
They also know the Starkey family, longtime ranchers and conservationists whose names are on a park, roads and a hospital wing under construction.
Corcoran’s 223 donors include Pasco Sheriff’s Office employees, firefighters, state Reps. John Legg and Peter Nehr, and Tallahassee-based law firms and political action committees.
A Pasco native, Corcoran moved away, worked as a lawyer and worked later as an adviser to former House Speaker Marco Rubio. He ran unsuccessfully for state office twice and moved his family back to Pasco this year.
He has plenty of Tallahassee ties of his own. One of them is former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has already contributed $250 to Corcoran’s campaign.
But for this race his most important connection is Fasano, a close family friend for the last 25 years.
Corcoran was hired this year as a contract attorney for Sheriff Bob White, another Fasano ally. Corcoran’s brother, Michael, ran White’s 2008 re-election campaign.
Fasano said he encouraged Corcoran to run for the House District 45 seat, which incumbent Tom Anderson must abandon because of term limits.
“I did not hear about Kathryn running for that seat till after Richard had decided to run,” he said.
When Starkey met with Fasano in January to tell him she’d decided to run for the seat, he told her he had a friend who would likely run and that he’d be supporting him. Starkey went public with her bid that same month.
“She’s a fine School Board member and has represented her constituents well,” Fasano said. “But I’m supporting Richard Corcoran because he knows how to get things done. Perhaps more importantly, he’s a good friend.”
In January, Corcoran registered to vote in Pasco County. He made his bid for the House seat official in April. That wasn’t long after he put his name in the mix as a potential appointee for Cathi Martin’s seat on the School Board, where he would have shared a public forum with Starkey in her final term. Martin later changed her mind about resigning.
Fasano said he has been making phone calls on Corcoran’s behalf but laughed off questions about his role in garnering support for his friend.
“I don’t lean on anybody,” he said. But “I’m helping Richard Corcoran in any way I can.”
Pasco’s firefighters union endorsed Corcoran last month. Union president Ralph Grant said the political action committee arm of the union made the recommendation.
“He’s been associated with Sen. Fasano, he’s been associated with a lot of our guys,” Grant said of Corcoran. “Sen. Fasano has always been a friend” of the union.
For her part, Starkey said she’s not taking Fasano’s support for her opponent personally.
“Sheriff White and Mike Fasano are both friends of mine,” said Starkey. “I don’t look at their support for Richard as anything against me. Promises were made to Richard prior to (their) knowing I was getting in the race.”
She downplayed Fasano’s role when it comes to voters.
“It should be about who the candidate is and what they’ve done and not who’s endorsing who. Who has earned the respect of voters,” said Starkey. “At the end of the day, it’s not Sen. Fasano who’s running.”
Corcoran said Fasano’s support was a big help. “Mike’s a dear friend,” he said, “and he’s spent the last 20 years working for people in this area.”
He added, however, that many of the donors on the list were people he knew, such as some firefighters and people he went to Hudson High School with.
Corcoran and Starkey aren’t the only Republicans in the race for the district seat.
Fabian Calvo, a Clearwater businessman planning to move into the district, has raised about $7,500. Democrats have yet to enter the race.
Some observers say it’s still way too early to tell who has an advantage. Former county Republican chairman Bill Bunting said he wouldn’t be surprised if the candidates ended up spending as much as $300,000 to win.
Bunting has not endorsed anyone in the race, though his wife, unbeknownst to him, donated to Corcoran. But he noted that Corcoran has been organizing petition drives and walking district neighborhoods in recent weeks.
“When you’re walking this early, you’re working harder,” he said. “The candidate who starts walking in July has an edge.”
Hildebrand said she expects Corcoran, particularly with Fasano’s help, “will be able to raise significant money. But Kathryn can, too.”