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Hernando County voter turnout sparse for primary election

Hugh Stewart didn't give himself the option of staying home Tuesday. Stewart, 81, showed up at the Hernando's YMCA branch in Spring Hill a little past 9 a.m. to cast his primary election ballot. He said he's only missed one election in five decades.

"It's a duty," Stewart said. "A privilege."

A relative few Hernando County voters felt as compelled as Stewart.

Final numbers weren't available early Tuesday evening, but only about one in five of the county's 121,311 registered voters cast ballots in the primary.

Of those, more than 6,200 mailed an absentee ballots, and 2,609 cast their votes during a week of early voting, according to the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office.

County voters in both the Democratic and Republican parties had a say in U.S. Senate primaries and two nonpartisan School Board races, among others. As for local partisan races, however, GOP voters found the most substantial ballot waiting for them.

Two Republican incumbent commissioners, James Adkins and John Druzbick, sought to fend off multiple challengers. Four Republicans vied for the spot on the general election ballot in the race for the District 1 seat left open by Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who decided not to run for a third term. And Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis faced a challenge from Bobby Sullivan, a retired Pasco sheriff's captain and Brooksville native.

There were no Democratic primaries for those three races.

The three contests garnered the most attention from voters who spoke with Tampa Bay Times reporters after casting ballots.

At the YMCA, one man walked around carrying a sign on a stick that read, "Deputies for Nienhuis." Other supporters waved signs for Sullivan.

Spring Hill resident Marion McLaughlin, 81, came to support Nienhuis, who was appointed to the post in December 2010 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

"I think he's done a good job so far," McLaughlin said. "I wanted to see him stay."

Nienhuis deserves more time to establish a record, said Kenneth Connor, a 67-year-old retired utilities foreman who voted with his wife, Carol, at the East Hernando Branch Library in Ridge Manor West. The couple moved from Pennsylvania to Brooksville in September.

"I like to give everybody a term to see what they do," Kenneth Connor said.

Nienhuis had some name recognition advantage as an incumbent. But, as a lifelong Hernando resident, Sullivan had connections to people like Cynthia Bragg, a 55-year-old homemaker who voted Tuesday morning at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville.

Bragg's daughter went to school with Sullivan's kids, and the way Nienhuis was picked by Crist didn't sit well, Bragg said.

"He has the same values and he's been a resident of this county for a long time," Bragg said of Sullivan. "I think people should earn their place, and sometimes it's who you know. I think Bobby has earned it."

Wendy Keller, who cast her ballot at the Heather Community Center, north of Weeki Wachee, said her interest in the primary revolved mostly around the sheriff's race. Her choice: Sullivan.

"I think we need some new blood in county government," said Keller, 46. "If we don't make some changes, then things will probably stay the same, and that hasn't been good the last couple of years."

About the same time Tuesday that the County Commission was discussing a plan to use reserve funds to plug a budget gap, some voters railed against what they called big government.

Charles Paine, 82, of Brooksville said he voted for tea party favorite Jason Sager over Druzbick for the commission.

"Government has grown and grown," Paine said. "It's bloated. It's overfed."

And the struggles the county has had to balance the budget?

"I don't know where they're putting the money," he said. "I think it's going in officials' pockets."

Carl and Elizabeth Craine came to the East Hernando library excited about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's decision to pick U.S. Paul Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.

The Craines selected Adkins and Sager.

"The establishment has discounted the tea party," said Carl Craine, 73, who serves as pastor of technological services at Hillside Baptist Church, east of Brooksville. "They say it's just going to go away. It ain't gonna happen."

High Point residents Gordon and Ann Pullan said that because they were away in New Jersey for much of the summer, they hadn't seen much in the way of campaign ads. Unfamiliar with many of the candidates, they chose to vote for the names they already knew.

"I don't have a problem with the people who are in there," Gordon Pullan said.

This was the first election since elections office officials combined some precincts, reducing the number of polling places from 57 to 39 across the county.

Officials posted signs at former polling places, directing voters to call the elections office if they were confused about where to vote, said Liz Townsend, director of operations.

A few voters did, Townsend said. But no major voting problems at the polls were reported.

Hernando County voter turnout sparse for primary election 08/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 8:33pm]
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