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Sunday, Apr 20, 2014
Tom Jackson

Jackson: What to make of election results

Published:

The mad dash to identify Mike Fasano’s successor in the state House of Representatives in our rearview mirrors, the time has come to extract enduring meaning from Amanda Murphy’s exquisitely narrow, if nonetheless historic, victory.

Yeah, right.

Intelligently forecasting trends that will shape policy and influence campaigns emanating from an off-year special election in the middle of October makes as much sense as projecting the World Series winner based on a midweek series in June.

Still, punditry, like nature, abhors a vacuum. So we do our duty.

The short, and probably most reliable, interpretation is this: Candidates matter.

More to the point: Candidates matter absolutely, and Bill Gunter, the Republican nominee, was a bad one.

Hold on, there. This does not mean Gunter is a despicable guy or a lousy preacher or an unpleasant neighbor. To put it in terms even Gator fans will understand, Gunter was an outstanding defensive end who brought much glory to the University of Florida, but he’d have made an embarrassing cornerback.

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To his credit, he gave a decent speech, was comfortable in crowds and met people easily. He also, apparently, agrees wholeheartedly with the policy goals of the current state House leadership. But he avoided specifics on the stump and, on the rare occasion he agreed to interviews, preferred vagueness.

Whether this reflected a shallow understanding of the means entailed in achieving his policy ends, or a reluctance to volunteer more than he was authorized to say by his Tallahassee advisers, is open to conjecture. But Gunter is certainly bright, leaving the most probable answers — his studies weren’t vigorous or he was being controlled by outside influences — to cast doubt on his readiness for office.

Worse, after running last year for Pasco County commission as the candidate of business and developers, Gunter returned trying to squeeze into Fasano’s little guy/little gal sweatshirt. It was a lousy fit.

Who could blame District 36 voters (the 19.72 percent who made the effort, anyway) for thinking Gunter seemed more like a candidate running to be somebody and less like one running to do something?

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By contrast, Murphy, whose noxious old-school nomination — she was anointed in a Tallahassee back room by Democratic Party power brokers — proved not to be off-putting, arrived with a reputation for professional competence derived from her work at Raymond James and her volunteer activities. That sense of things was affirmed by a cheerful felicity for articulating her points of view.

That said, we shouldn’t ascribe too much credit to those opinions — which could have sprung from the usual coalition of Democrat interest groups — being crucial to her win. And it’s downright hilarious to imagine Murphy’s harrowing 1.7-percent margin in a district won twice, handily, by Barack Obama suggests a shift among voters toward a larger, more meddlesome government.

Of particular interest is Murphy’s support for taking $51 billion in federal money over the next 10 years to expand Medicaid (the worst possible insurance, in many cases even worse than no insurance, studies show) under Obamacare. Check back with us next summer once the president’s “signature program” has kicked in good and hard. We’ll see then how popular anything Obamacare-related is.

Nope. This was no canary in a coal mine. It was a snapshot, a passing moment, a confluence of unreplicable events — including Fasano’s useful endorsement and a federal government partial work-stoppage blamed on the GOP — that amounts to the odd midweek series when the Red Sox lose three to Houston, forgotten come crunch time.

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