Amanda Murphy's win in Pasco County last night was significant. But just how significant? As can be expected, everyone has an opinion on what it means. From my view, its less about what it means and more what are the lessons that can be learned. Here's my take:
1. Candidates Matter. Candidates Really Matter.
I am certain that the Republican nominee, Bill Gunter, is a good guy. I truly like GOP Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran and if Richard vouches for him, that's good by me. But by most objective standards, the new State Representative Amanda Murphy, wins the bio test. She has a long record in the community, is a businesswoman and strikes a really good profile in a swing seat. Candidate quality is important in swing districts, far more than partisans want to admit. It was they key to our success in 2006 when I worked for the Democrat's House campaign effort, and it was why the Democrats won this race. This became a race only when Murphy got in the race, and in this case, her profile overcame a major financial disadvantage to win crossover voters, including Pasco's most important swing vote: Mike Fasano.
2. Mike Fasano is ridiculously popular in Pasco County. Like crazy ridiculously popular.
Longtime legislator and current Tax Collector Mike Fasano has numbers that any public figure would die for. In this district, in polling I saw, his fav/unfav was 86:9. I am not sure George Washington could carry those numbers. One Republican said to me: "he could beat Jeb there" and another said, with nothing but respect: "Pasco voters would elect him Overlord for Life if he wanted." Fasano leaned in hard and it was clearly a difference maker -- if not the most important factor. If I go to war in Pasco County, I want him in my corner.
3. The GOP brand has seen better days.
Just by turnout alone, Gunter should have won. But the atmospherics for the GOP are not good. When the voting happened, soft Republicans bolted to the Democrat, as did Independents -- and that is why the numbers worked for Murphy in this special election. Moderate Republicans are clearly not comfortable with where the party is today, and more than likely, the shibacle in DC contributed. But typically Republicans are more loyal to their party than Democrats, at least in Florida, which is why my GOP friends need to pay attention to this: this time their frustration led them to vote for a a centrist Democrat. My party saw some of the same issues in 2009 and it didn't work out well for us in 2010. The moderates in the GOP don't want the same thing as their base, and they showed it in HD 36. If that continues forward, I don't have to tell you what that means for 2014. St Pete Mayors race will be the next indicator.
4. This isn't a predicator, but it is a canary.
Every election means something. In this one, a well qualified centrist Democrat backed by several key moderate Republicans overcame a massive money advantage and turnout disadvantage to beat a Republican who ran a fairly typical partisan message. Swing voters in this district in the data I saw liked Crist and liked Fasano, both seen as more independent minded. Does that alone mean Charlie Crist beats Rick Scott? No. Does it mean something? Well, you do the math.
5 Voters are still trying to say something.
We've been on a political see-saw for the last nearly 10 years and I think it is for a very basic reason: Most voters aren't as ideological or partisan as their elected leaders or the political class in general, and they are clearly frustrated by the direction of things. Don't believe me, just look at polls. But voters can't force partisans to compromise and work together, so when politicos retreat to their camps, voters can only reject what is in front of them. Based on some polling I saw here, the swing voters here were frustrated with Governor Scott, frustrated with Congress, and frustrated with the direction of the nation and state. They had an alternative that seemed less partisan, so they went for it.
6. My party has gotten its act together.
It hasn't been a pretty two months for my team, but in the end, elections are what matters, nothing else. They recruited well, took advantage of opportunities and got the W. GOP House Campaign wizard and my friend Frank Terraferma, who I think is the most underrecognized political mind in the state, is going to have some actual competition this time -- and competition breeds better candidates, better campaigns and better legislators. We are a free market nation built on competition and when we get it in the political world, I strongly believe that's good news for America.