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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: A special GOP primary, or an irrelevant one?

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The following is irrelevant, at least according to Michael Cox, and his expertise in local politics is unsurpassed.

Cox, after all, managed Steve Simon’s two winning county commission races, then turned around and beat him in his try for a third term, which is similar to doing what Bum Phillips once said in praise of legendary Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula:

“He can take his’n and beat your’n, and he can take your’n and beat his’n.”

So when Cox describes as irrelevant all the chatter, energy and money being invested to ascertain the Republican candidate in next month’s state House District 36 special election — “Amanda Murphy’s going to win that seat, no question,” he says — attention must be paid ... right?

Well, it depends on how much stock you put in the mischievous tilt to his head and the glint in his eye when he adds, “I have to make a prediction, and that’s it.”

This was a couple of weeks ago, the night of the Pasco Economic Development Council’s annual banquet and mere hours after the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce’s team press conference that gathered the three GOP hopefuls — Bill Gunter, Jim Mathieu and Jeromy Harding (a preacher, a lawyer and an insurance agency owner) — under the same roof for the first and only time before Tuesday’s election deadline establishes the survivor.

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And while the Saddlebrook Resort ballroom buzzed with critiques of the Republican field, in his role as an endangered species — conservative, but doggedly unrepentant Democrat — Cox focused on the makeup of the district, which stretches from Pinellas to Hernando counties along the Gulf Coast, reaching inland roughly to Little Road.

Home to thousands of pensioners, more than a few of them United Auto Worker retirees or military veterans, or both, the district has been Obama territory twice, and it’s Death Valley for Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Already, the Democratic plurality is being urged to send Murphy, and a message, to Tallahassee, by turning the district blue.

A couple of things about that, beginning with what’s especially obvious about next month’s ballot. Like all ballots for the rest of time, Barack Obama’s name will not be at the top of it. This not-insignificant fact will give pundits an early glimpse of electoral politics in the post-Obama era.

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Sort of, anyway. After all, Thing No. 2 is the race before us is a special election, and special elections — as witnessed last week in the defeat of two gun-control-favoring Colorado state senators, both Democrats — tend to favor Republicans. So, despite the district’s general tilt, the winner of the GOP primary must be considered the favorite to prevail in October.

So, with all due respect to Michael Cox — who was savvy enough to know his reelection in 2010 was doomed when, by lunchtime, he’d identified a huge Republican turnout — and Bum Phillips, we remain keenly interested in the GOP candidates.

Our impressions? Young Mr. Harding brings an earnestness that refreshes. We understand how local Libertarians are drawn to his unspoiled, let-the-free-market-soar point of view, but there are too many subjects about which he is alarmingly unfamiliar.

There is no question former Florida Gator defensive end the Rev. Mr. Gunter — over whom the current House leadership is swooning like a bunch of freshman cheerleaders — is reliably (and bizarrely) more conservative than the chairman of the Pasco Republican Party, Mr. Split-the-Difference Jim Mathieu. But while Gunter is expert at talking endlessly without saying anything remotely of substance (except that if he loses the election he’ll high-tail it back to his home in District 35 quicker than you can drawl, “So long, suckers!”), Mathieu, a former city attorney and interim city manager, is a black belt policy wonk.

If you could only splice the three of them together, you’d have something special. Too bad voters have to choose among imperfect offerings.

Ah, it probably doesn’t matter anyway.

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