It may be the most important election for Florida GOP chairman that Republicans have had in decades, and it’s getting more and more ugly.
First opponents of Hillsborough Republican chairwoman Deborah Cox-Roush spread the word that the leading candidate for state party chairwoman was arrested for drunk driving six years ago and had financial problems. Now someone is going after another leading candidate, former state Rep. David Bitner of Monticello.
An anonymous packet dropped at the St. Petersburg Times shows that in 1999 Bitner’s wife Wendy sought a domestic violence injunction, accusing Bitner of "pushing her around his office" and leaving bruises on her arms. The petition, later dismissed at Mrs. Bitner’s request, says that in 1997 Bitner also pinned her to the floor and choked her "to the point of near unconsciousness."
"I can tell you those things did not happen. It (the court petition) was done on a heated day and in a heated moment. I was very young, and I was irresponsible,’’ Wendy Bitner, who recently celebrated her 20th anniversary, told the Times/Herald Thursday. "It did not happen. I was upset, and its a shame that someone is sensationalizing problems somebody had in their marriage."
By many accounts Bitner and Cox-Roush are the leading candidates heading into the Jan. 15 election for state party chairman, with Sarasota Chairman Joe Gruters also in the mix. Pinellas Chairman Tony DiMatteo and Palm Beach Chairman Sid Dinerstein also are running and have their own bases of support.
Bitner said he didn't even know any record existed on the dismissed 1999 injunction, so he never mentioned it. "I understand that all of a sudden that the stakes in this race have become so high that some people are desperate and they'll do anything,'' he said. "The person who's being so vindictive, they have to live with themselves. We have our priorities straight."
The bitter election comes after the turbulent tenure of Jim Greer - and a hugely successful election cycle - and the stakes are especially high with this election. Not only is it a presidential election cycle, but the next chairman will grapple with redistricting and be in the national spotlight with the GOP convention in Tampa.