BROOKSVILLE — With significant advantages in law-enforcement experience and campaign funds, Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent seems on the verge of cruising to a third four-year term in office.
This time, however, he has run into a couple of nasty speed bumps.
Nugent, a Republican, faces challengers Luke Frazier, a Democrat, and Marc Reusch, a write-in candidate, both of whom say they have been wronged by the Sheriff's Office and have publicly aired their grievances.
"It's pretty clear that there's widespread corruption and coverups in the Sheriff's Office," Frazier said. "He's done everything he can — dirty and under the table — to try to discredit me and anybody else running against him."
Nugent said he has grown weary of attacks like that.
"I've never seen this type of behavior in a campaign before," Nugent said. "Some of it is probably libelous."
That sort of campaign rhetoric has generated some buzz around a race that figures to lack much drama at the polls on Nov. 4.
Nugent won with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2004 against a candidate, James "Eddie" McConnell, who had worked in law enforcement in Hernando for more than 25 years and lost by only 3 percentage points in their 2000 race.
This time, Nugent will contend with Frazier, whose previous bid for public office was a failed campaign for county commissioner as a 19-year-old Republican in 2004, and Reusch, a political novice who most recently operated a bicycle shop in Brooksville.
In addition to experience and name recognition, Nugent also owns a tremendous advantage in resources. He has received more than $33,000 in campaign contributions, a figure that ranks second only to Clerk of Circuit Court incumbent Karen Nicolai among Hernando candidates. His total is 660 times larger than the $50 brought in by Frazier. Reusch claimed no contributions on any of his financial reports.
"I don't think you can buy your way through these races," Frazier said. "If that's the case, I know that monetarily, I can never come close to anything he's done."
But Frazier and Reusch have managed to create some notoriety for themselves during a couple of recent candidate forums, particularly one about two weeks ago at the Timber Pines retirement community.
Frazier has called Nugent a liar and a criminal, and claimed Nugent used his powerful office to quiet political opponents. Frazier also accused the sheriff of unfairly targeting him personally, noting that he has been arrested four times in Hernando County since 2004.
Meanwhile, Reusch has repeated his claims that the Sheriff's Office refuses to investigate his complaints about being poisoned in his home. Reusch said someone is pumping poison gas into his house that has left him unable to work at his bike shop for the past two years.
Neither Frazier nor Reusch was able to provide any evidence for their claims.
Nugent, who has worked in the Sheriff's Office since 1984, said he stands firmly behind his eight-year record as sheriff.
"I have had so many people come up to me who said they are appalled by their behavior and comments," Nugent said. "I don't have a personal interest in any of them, period. I'm just ready for this to be all over."
Frazier and Reusch have made modest proposals for the Sheriff's Office, with both of them calling for more accountability and increased interaction with the community.
Nugent pointed to steps he has taken to limit department spending during the ongoing budget crunch, to improve response times, and to implement youth programs and summer camps that do not require funding by taxpayers.
"I think people think we've been doing an outstanding job," Nugent said. "That's why I don't think we had any credible candidates come out this time."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.