The race also demonstrated what has been happening across the state: Voters are no longer tightly aligned with parties and, with 25 percent of the electorate with no party affiliation, the state is more purple than it has been in decades.
Republicans, who traditionally turn out voters in higher percentages than Democrats, can no longer count on party turnout to win, said Steve Schale, a Democratic political consultant. Murphy’s race showed that “moderate Republicans, centrist Democrats and independents are willing to vote for a centrist Democrat,” Schale said.
In 2012, Obama won the newly drawn swing district by six points and in 2010, Scott had carried the predecessor district by one point.
Fasano’s endorsement was powerful “because he said we need more bipartisanship, and it came at a time when voters were looking for that,” Ulvert said.
Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s chief of staff and campaign advisor, downplayed the significance of the Pasco results, calling it one of many "data points" to analyze the views of Florida voters. "Depending upon where you sit, you can make any number of political observations about that race," he said. "
Analysts from both parties now say that healthcare is likely to play a role in the 2014 election in only a handful of swing districts in the Florida House, a St. Petersburg-based swing district in the Senate — and the governor’s race.
“The governor has seen the polls. It’s the reason his own position is purple on healthcare,” said Linda Quick, president of the Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association which supports Medicaid expansion.
Scott, a former hospital executive, came into office as a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act then surprised many when in February he announced that he could not “in good conscience, deny uninsured access to care.”
The governor said he supported the plan in the state Senate to accept the federal money, but his decision was vigorously opposed by conservative Republicans and Tea Party members who had helped Scott into office. He spent no political capital to find a compromise and, after session, he spent the summer reviving the issues that first made him popular with conservatives — from purging the voter rolls, to setting up hurdles for implementation of the Affordable Care Act
Fasano, who resigned in August to become Pasco County’s tax collector, initially promised to be neutral in the race, but he said he got involved when it became clear Gunter “didn’t have a clue” about issues such as the nuclear cost recovery fee charged by Duke Power and the number of working uninsured in the district that could be helped by Medicaid expansion.
Fasano had been the lone Republican in the House last session to support drawing down the $51 billion in federal money over the next 10 years to cover the uninsured.
Fasano lost but exacted his own revenge last week — even spending $1,000 from his own account to pay for five robo-calls in support of Murphy.
“The great thing for me was to see that Republicans came out and crossed party lines to vote for somebody they believed would do a better job than the House Republicans are doing now,” he said.
The challenge now, analysts say, is for Republicans who control the Legislature to avoid being seen as the “Party of No” on healthcare reform and other issues. Corcoran said he is developing a new version of the House healthcare plan that relies on private insurers but uses no federal money to expand healthcare.
Fasano instead has a warning: “If they don’t come to the realization that people want to go in a different direction, they’re going to lose more House seats in 2014.”
Steve Bousquet of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.