Democrat Amanda Murphy won a special election to the Florida House on Tuesday, claiming the west Pasco seat vacated by popular Republican Mike Fasano, who broke with his party's leaders to endorse her.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Murphy held a 297-vote lead over Republican Bill Gunter. Many observers expected the race to be close.
"It was a nail-biter," she told Bay News 9 from her victory party at Boulevard Beef and Ale in downtown New Port Richey. "I'm just very proud to represent west Pasco County today."
Murphy is a financial adviser for Raymond James making her first run for office.
Gunter is a Presbyterian minister who had the county's most powerful leaders and a Tallahassee-funded war chest behind him.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, future Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sheriff Chris Nocco and schools Superintendent Kurt Browning were among the prominent Republicans helping his candidacy.
But it was Fasano's backing that mattered most. After vowing to stay neutral in the race, Fasano revealed he had voted absentee for Murphy and urged others to do the same. Then, in a television appearance Friday, he formally endorsed her.
The election was set up when Fasano resigned in August to become Pasco's tax collector.
A one-time stalwart Republican soldier, particularly during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, Fasano burnished his bipartisan appeal in recent years, often to the ire of GOP leaders. He supported Charlie Crist's independent run for Senate over Republican nominee Marco Rubio in 2010, and earlier this year called for Medicaid expansion in Florida under the Affordable Care Act.
"Mike Fasano stepping in and endorsing and believing in me is what pushed this over," Murphy said.