Democrat Amanda Murphy defeated Republican Bill Gunter in a special election Tuesday for a Pasco County House seat, giving House Democrats a boost little more than a year before they try to pick up seats in the 2014 campaign.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Murphy had 50.8 percent of the vote to Gunter's 49.2 percent, according to the Florida Division of Election's website. Gunter called Murphy to concede shortly before 8 p.m.
The win by Murphy, 43, gives Democrats 45 seats in the 120-member House. That is still far short of the 75 seats held by Republicans, but it represents a pickup for the caucus that has long been the minority in the chamber and recently saw a contentious leadership battle.
"I think that election in Pasco County was really like a litmus test in terms of where Florida is," said Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, who is slated to take over as House Democratic leader after the 2014 elections.
The District 36 seat that Murphy won had been held by former Rep. Mike Fasano, who was named Pasco County tax collector this summer. Fasano, a maverick Republican, endorsed Murphy.
Both parties poured money into the district in an effort to win the race, and Gunter had been the presumed front-runner in the Republican-leaning county. But Democrats hold a slight registration advantage in District 36, and Fasano remains an enormously popular figure.
Murphy had eagerly grabbed the mantle of Fasano, who endorsed her despite saying earlier he would remain neutral in the race. Murphy said Fasano's departure was one of the main reasons she ran.
"The biggest thing was when Mike Fasano wasn't going to be there to fight for us," she said in an interview last week.
Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican slated to take over as House speaker after the 2014 elections, also congratulated Murphy on the victory.
"Amanda Murphy campaigned as an independent voice, so I am hopeful she will reject the special interests to work for common sense solutions to Florida's challenges," he said.