Locals ignore GOP's plea for neutrality

Pasco and Pinellas Republicans are expected to endorse Charlie Crist over Tom Gallagher for the gubernatorial nomination.

Published August 18, 2005

State Republican Party chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan wants party officials to remain neutral in Republican primaries to promote unity. But two GOP chairmen from Charlie Crist's home turf aren't listening.

Tonight the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee is expected to endorse Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist for governor over Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, said Pasco Republican chairman Bill Bunting. Pinellas County chairman Tony DiMatteo said he expects that Crist's home county will do the same in October.

"I think it's going to be basically by acclamation. I would think if you're for Gallagher, you're going to be pretty quiet about it in this county," DiMatteo said.

Bunting said he respects Jordan's call for unity, but he noted that three former party chairmen endorsed Gallagher earlier this summer.

"When Al Cardenas, Tom Slade and Van Poole endorsed Tom Gallagher, a lot of people didn't like that. They've opened the door for this," said Bunting, stressing that every Republican candidate has been invited to make a pitch to the Pasco executive committee.

Pinellas property appraiser Jim Smith, a longtime Gallagher friend and former state committeeman, said the local party should remain neutral, but the endorsement probably will happen anyway.

"He's going, if not over the line, then pretty close to it," Smith said, noting that DiMatteo also has taken sides in a crowded Republican field of candidates running to succeed Gus Bilirakis in the state House.

Explaining his preference for Gallagher, with whom he served in the Legislature, Smith said, "We need somebody who's really strong rather than reeds blowing in the wind."

In Tampa, where Gallagher addressed party activists at La Teresita restaurant Wednesday, Republican chairman Al Higginbotham said the Hillsborough County party won't endorse any candidates in a primary.

Endorsements from executive committees happen occasionally in local races, but rarely in statewide races. In 1986, Pasco Republicans gave then-Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez an early endorsement in the gubernatorial primary.

Camille Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Party, had no direct comment on the planned primary endorsements from Pasco and Pinellas.

"They are their own entities," she said, "but we know post-primary everyone will rally around the candidate."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com