Months before a single vote was cast in the sheriff's primary, hundreds of anonymous postings on a popular law enforcement Web site declared an alternate truth about the candidates.
"The voters will know about this collaboration of the two working together to oust the sheriff," one poster wrote on a leoaffairs.com message board Aug. 15.
"Bogart, Sully. All the same people," another wrote back in February.
The belief was that two of the candidates, Republican Robert Sullivan and Democrat Jeff Deremer, got into the race to be "crash dummies" who were running only to drain energy and cash from the stronger contenders. Sullivan would help clear the way in the general election for Democrat Kim Bogart. Deremer would weaken Bogart for Republican Sheriff Bob White.
The rhetoric was largely ignored throughout the campaign, never prompting public denials. But days after last week's primary was over, the two losing candidates poured more gasoline on the fiery rumor.
Crossing party lines, Deremer endorsed White, and Sullivan backed Bogart.
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Everybody denies the crash dummy charge.
"I wanted to be sheriff to help deputies have a good place to work and the citizens have a safe place to live," Deremer said last week.
Sullivan said he would never have endured the grueling campaign schedule if he wasn't serious about being elected.
"I am not close enough friends with anybody to put my family through what we just went through for seven months just to improve somebody's odds," he said.
White, through his spokesman, unequivocally denied he had anything to do with Deremer running.
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Deremer, a 38-year-old probation officer, was a newly minted Democrat and political neophyte when he went to a party leader last fall for advice on how to launch his campaign.
Michael Cox, a Democratic County Commissioner, told Deremer he knew of another man who was thinking of running, and the two of them should meet.
Deremer remembers thinking that the Democrats gathered around Cox's kitchen table were collectively in favor of Kim Bogart, a former Sheriff's Office administrator who became a consultant to other agencies.
Their reasoning, he said, came down to who had the needed supervisory experience to run the large agency.
"They were trying to talk me out of running," Deremer said.
Sullivan, 47, got similarly discouraging signals from Republican leaders. Several supported him quietly, he says, but not financially. Throughout the campaign, he had only a handful of conversations with Pasco GOP chairman Bill Bunting, who said he kept his distance from Sullivan and just asked him to run a clean campaign.
A few weeks after filing to run, Sullivan called state Sen. Mike Fasano, an influential Pasco Republican, as a courtesy to let him know he was running.
When Fasano called back, he had tough words.
"He (White) will pulverize you with money," Sullivan said Fasano told him. "He said, 'You cannot win.'"
Fasano says he didn't try to talk Sullivan out of running, adding that he has a lot of respect for him.
"I told him I support the sheriff," Fasano said.
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So why the cross-party endorsements?
Deremer called Bogart a "pure politician" who is duping voters. White, he said, has morals and integrity.
"I just trust the man. We have some small differences," he said. "I just felt like he was being truthful with the public."
Sullivan and Bogart have been friends since the 1980s when they worked together at the Sheriff's Office.
Sullivan said he struggled with the endorsement because of party loyalty, but he doesn't think the sheriff's race should be partisan.
After months of attacking White's record on issues like spending, he said he would appear a hypocrite to back him now.
Bogart, he said, is "a lawman, a proven administrator, a proven leader."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.