A campaign that started inauspiciously, then got ugly, ended well Tuesday night for Hernando County Sheriff Rich Nugent.
Nugent pulled ahead early and never looked back in the Republican primary battle for the District 5 congressional seat against former audio-visual technician and tea party favorite Jason Sager of Brooksville.
The sprawling district is composed of all of Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties; most of Lake, Levy and Pasco counties, and portions of Marion and Polk counties.
Nugent of Spring Hill won all eight counties, taking about 62 percent of the more than 84,000 votes cast with most precincts reporting.
He will face Jim Piccillo, a 36-year-old small business consultant from Land O'Lakes, in the general election. Piccillo faces an uphill battle, attempting to defeat Nugent in a district drawn to favor Republican candidates.
"I'm real thankful," Nugent said Tuesday night from 5 Boroughs Sports Bistro in Spring Hill. "We had a great team and so many great volunteers."
First elected to sheriff in 2000, Nugent, 59, drew criticism from many — including those within his own party — for the way he got into the race for the seat that Brooksville Republican Ginny Brown-Waite has held since 2002. Facing health problems, Brown-Waite quietly asked Nugent to run in her place, and Nugent agreed, filing just before the deadline in April. Brown-Waite announced minutes after the deadline that she was bowing out.
Nugent conceded that he deferred to Brown-Waite on the plan.