TAMPA — Law enforcement officers never want to be outgunned. Neither do political candidates.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister need not worry.
The Republican candidate has amassed what appears to be a record-sized war chest of just more than $1 million in his bid to keep the job he was appointed to last year.
As of May 31, donors have poured $661,865 into Chronister’s local campaign account, according to documents posted Monday on the county Supervisor of Elections website.
That’s a record amount for a candidate for a local office in Hillsborough, according to a Times review, and far more than the $372,840 that Chronister’s predecessor and mentor David Gee raised in his fourth and final campaign in 2016. So far in this election cycle, County Commissioner Ken Hagan has raised the second-highest amount with $474,874, well behind the Chronister.
But those numbers only tell part of the story of Chronister’s financial firepower.
Donors have dumped another $340,675 into a state political action committee created for Chronister called Law Enforcement For Responsible Government.
The grand total so far between Chronister’s two accounts is $1,002,540. This figure also appears to be a record amount for a local Hillsborough County office.
"Wow," veteran political analyst Susan MacManus said when she heard the total Tuesday morning.
Races for sheriff can be expensive, competitive and contentious, especially when the seat is open, said MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist. Candidates seek to pile up money quickly to scare off potential challengers and start building up name recognition among voters.
But in this case, McManus said, Chronister is essentially running as an incumbent because Gee decided to retire in September, less than a year after winning a fourth term. Gov. Rick Scott took Gee’s recommendation to appoint Chronister, who was sworn in on Sept. 29.
One month later, Chronister already had a total of more than $475,000 in his two accounts, records show.
"This race exemplifies the advantage of having an official resign early and someone else stepping up who then becomes the incumbent," MacManus said.
A significant chunk of Chronister’s total came from his wife Nikki DeBartolo and her wealthy family, including her parents, Eddie Jr. and Cynthia. All told, the DeBartolos — who made their fortune through ventures including real estate and professional sports — have contributed at least $138,000 to Chronister’s funds, records show.
So far, Chronister has spent $140,216.
Who will wind up on the ballot with Chronister, if anyone, is still unclear.
One of his two declared challengers, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer named Juan Rivera, withdrew from the race last month after raising $722.
The second declared challenger, retired Tampa police corporal Gary Pruitt, has raised $3,310, records show. Pruitt did not immediately return a message Tuesday.
To qualify for the ballot, candidates must submit 8,499 valid signatures or pay a $10,662 fee. The qualifying period for the race begins Monday and ends Friday.
Chronister won’t need to spend money on qualifying. His campaign announced in March that volunteers had gathered enough signatures for him to qualify.
Chronister said Tuesday he’s humbled by the support, saying it shows the community is "proud of their Sheriff’s Office." He said he has not had to actively ask for the money, giving him more time to run the office.
He also said he’s not taking anything for granted.
"I’m going to continue running like I’m behind," he said.
Contact Times staff writer Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.