BROOKSVILLE — News of Hernando County Commission candidate Jason Sager's extramarital affair caught local Republican leaders and others off guard Friday.
Sager, the GOP candidate for District 3, admitted Thursday that he had an affair earlier this year with his media liaison, Danielle Alexandre, contributing to the breakup of her marriage.
The admission came after the Times confronted him with videos, photographs and emails collected by her ex-husband, Edward "Eddie" Alexandre.
Some Republican leaders said they will continue to support Sager, 38. Other key supporters, including Tommy Bronson, a former mining executive who was one of the earliest Sager supporters, and Jim Kimbrough, SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast chief executive officer, did not return calls seeking comment.
Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the local Republican Executive Committee, said the executive board will meet to discuss the issue. He would not comment further.
"It's a mess,'' said real estate agent Gary Schraut, who has supported Sager's candidacy. "I'm saddened for Stephanie (Sager's wife), and I'm saddened for their son.''
He said he differs with Sager on some issues but could not support the other District 3 candidates, Democrat Diane Rowden and no-party candidate Greg Sheldon. He said he wished incumbent John Druzbick had not been knocked out of the race by Sager in the primary.
He said Hernando voters face a "dilemma'' and predicted a major undervote in the District 3 race.
Schraut said he has witnessed enough campaigns to know how hard they are on families, even without explosive developments such as Sager's affair.
"To have it played out on the front page of the newspaper, that's his fault,'' he said.
Tom Hogan Sr., a longtime state committeeman, said news of the Sager affair hit him hard.
"Everything considered, I'm still supporting him,'' he said.
He said it is up to Sager and his wife, and not party leadership, to decide whether he should stay in the race. Sager said Thursday he would stay in the race because he doesn't want to see Rowden step into the seat.
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, who fended off Sager's attacks in an ugly Republican primary battle two years ago, lent his name to a recent fundraiser for Sager.
Would he do it again?
"I'm not going to go down that road," he said. "It is what it is. The losers in this really are the families."
Voters will have to consider Sager's assertion that his personal life wouldn't affect his ability as a commissioner, Nugent said.
"I'm sure he's sincere in that," he said, "but that's up to the voters at this point in the time."
The revelations, and Sager's initial denial, should give voters great pause, said Steve Zeledon, chairman of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee.
"Character counts," Zeledon said. "A candidate's personal life instructs us on what to expect in his dealings in the public arena."
Sheldon, the no-party candidate in District 3, said he was shocked to see the news about Sager because he heard Sager talk about his son and his family at almost every political forum. His wife was often by his side.
"I don't feel bad for Jason Sager because he put himself in this situation. But I do feel bad for his wife and his son, Bob,'' Sheldon said. "This throws out any credibility, as he is walking around portraying himself like he's already a senator.''
Rowden, the Democratic candidate, reacted similarly.
"My first reaction is sadness,'' Rowden said. "He's got a son. He's got a wife. … There are a lot of lives that are being impacted here.''
She said asking people to trust a candidate and vote him or her into office "has everything to do with character.''
Sager said he spent the day answering numerous calls and contacts from supporters.
"It's the most Christian response I could have ever asked for,'' he said. "Obviously, I don't feel I deserve it, but the outpouring of forgiveness is nothing short of extraordinary.''
Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.