State Rep. Ralph Massullo’s path to re-election in House District 23 became clearer Thursday when his top competitor withdrew.
Two days after posting zero financial activity for April, former Commissioner Rebecca Bays announced she was dropping her House campaign and would instead run for Citrus County Commission District 4.
Bays, who represented District 4 from 2010-2014, said in a statement that competing against the three-term incumbent Massullo would be an uphill climb.
“While we still saw a path to victory, it was a narrow and potentially divisive one for our community,” she said.
Massullo said he was pleased with Bays’ announcement.
“I’m happy I’m not running against her in the House race,” he said in a phone interview. “Local politics is where she would make the most inroads.”
Bays, an Inverness businesswoman, never intended to run against Massullo. In fact, she was one of his supporters and stayed out of the race while the Lecanto Republican mulled a campaign for Senate District 11.
Then, in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis abruptly announced his endorsement for Massullo’s Senate opponent, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican. Two days later, Massullo returned to the HD 23 race with DeSantis’ endorsement, leaving Bays in a difficult spot.
“When I entered the State House race, I was campaigning for an open seat with no incumbent running,” she said. “I was humbled by the strong support we were receiving.”
Bays said she believes that support will spill over to the County Commission.
“We are in a period of explosive growth, and many fear county government is not functioning well enough to handle it,” she said. “I am pursuing this opportunity now because I have a strong desire to serve my community. I feel I can be a positive influence to move our county forward without destructive backwards antics.”
While Bays had collected about $38,000, plus $10,000 she loaned the campaign, she didn’t collect or spend a dime in April.
Her decision leaves now three Republicans in the HD 23 race: Massullo, retired Florida Highway Patrol trooper Tod Cloud of Homosassa, and Beverly Hills resident Paul Reinhardt.
Massullo said Bays’ leaving the House race won’t change his strategy.
“My goal is to get everybody to vote for me,” he said. “I want to be everybody’s Representative.”
It also brings two former Commissioners in the Citrus County Commission District 4 race who both served at the same time. Bays and Winn Webb were Commission colleagues from 2010-12.
Webb said he hadn’t heard that Bays dropped the HD 23 race for County Commission, but said it wouldn’t affect him.
“My campaign is my campaign,” he said. “I run for Winn Webb.”
Two other County Commission District 4 candidates are John Murphy and Phil Nichols. Murphy has raised about $21,000. Nichols hasn’t yet raised a dime in outside dollars, but put $2,500 into his campaign.