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Cannon has work left to do, primary shows

District 11 candidate Lee Cannon has got a tough road ahead in his run against Mike Fasano.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002

If Lee Cannon hopes to beat Mike Fasano in the November elections, he had better learn to campaign like the guy he just beat in the primary, observers say.

Cannon, a two-term former sheriff in Pasco County, won the Democratic primary for state Senate District 11 with about 55 percent of the vote.

But his opponent, a retired auto worker with little name recognition and almost no campaign money, beat Cannon in Hernando County and made a surprisingly strong showing in other parts of the sprawling coastal district that runs from northern Pinellas to the Citrus-Levy County line.

"If I had two or three thousand more dollars, I could have beat Lee Cannon," said Joseph "Steve" Mattingly, 57, who lives on the Pasco side of County Line Road at Hernando's border.

"(Cannon) has to tighten up this thing and work harder," said Dom Cabriele, chairman of the Hernando Democratic Party, which didn't endorse either candidate in the primary. "Fasano is going to be tough to beat."

Cannon now faces state Rep. Fasano, Republican of New Port Richey, in the November general elections.

With the primary over, Cabriele said, his party is going to start promoting Cannon, who only brought campaign signs to Hernando County on Monday. Cabriele says he doesn't blame Cannon for focusing on Pinellas and Pasco in the primary, considering that Mattingly had a base of support in Hernando.

But Cannon won't be able to take anything for granted against Fasano, Cabriele predicted.

"I think he was a little loosey-goosey on this thing," he said. "Mattingly to them was like a gnat. All of a sudden, he wasn't a gnat but a big bee. "(Cannon)'s got some work to do."

Even in his home county of Pasco, which holds the largest number of residents in the district, Cannon did not win by a landslide.

In Pasco, he won 57.5 percent of the vote to Mattingly's 42.5 percent; in Pinellas County, the second largest holder of district residents, Cannon won 54 percent to 46 percent.

He lost Hernando County with a little less than half the vote and won Citrus County by a 32-vote margin (with 454 votes).

Cannon said he wasn't surprised at all by the numbers. Both candidates were unknown in Citrus and Pinellas counties, he said. And new residents in Pasco, he said, might not know he was sheriff from 1992 to 2000, when he was defeated by newcomer Bob White.

"I felt I was going to win, but I never thought it was going to be by 80-90 percent," Cannon said.

Cannon said he did not want to unleash a "sledgehammer" in this race, but chose to save his resources for the battle with Fasano.

"We did what was necessary to get through the primary without spending too much but just enough to win," Cannon said.

Ed Collins, a Fasano backer and former Pasco County commissioner who often sparred with then-Sheriff Cannon on budget issues, said he's not buying it.

"I think it bodes badly for Lee Cannon that he only picked up 54 percent when he served as Sheriff for eight years," Collins said. "He should have gotten 70 percent or better. I knew he wouldn't, but he should have."

Mattingly remains upset at the state party, which gave Cannon more than $27,000 worth of in-kind campaign management and polling services. "I'm extremely disappointed with the state Democratic Party for the way they shunned me," Mattingly said. "I think to some degree they owe me an apology of some kind."

Mattingly struck out on his own during the campaign, with a little more than $1,300 in his campaign chest. He drove and walked the district, waving signs in rush-hour traffic, attending flea markets. He thinks his years of volunteer work at Hernando hospitals and with the AARP chapter in Spring Hill bolstered his support.

"Cannon's going to have to do some of the things I did if he's going to beat Fasano," Mattingly said.

Joe Perry, the finance director for the Senate division of the Florida Democratic Party, complimented Mattingly on the outcome. But he said the party's support for Cannon stemmed from the fact that it asked him to run.

"That doesn't make sense for us to give support against someone we recruited," Perry said. "The Democratic Party could have come in there with six figures and he could have gotten 65 percent (of the vote). What's the point? You'd rather use that money in the general election with Mike Fasano."

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