Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader won a surprisingly easy victory Tuesday after weathering weeks of attacks from challenger John Nicolette.
With about 90 percent of the votes counted, Schrader had nearly 58 percent of the vote over Nicolette in a Republican primary expected to be much closer.
"We are absolutely elated. We are so pleased voters have recognized the job we have done," Schrader said after Nicolette conceded in a voice-mail message.
Schrader's victory virtually assures him of serving the next four years. With no Democrats running from the eastern Pasco District 1, the only other candidate in the November election is a write-in opponent.
Schrader led a rush of easy victories for commissioners. Commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Jack Mariano easily won their primary contests Tuesday.
Hildebrand — the commissioner representing southwest Pasco's District 3 — will now face Democrat Terri Conroy, who handily won her party's primary against Nicholas Planck.
Mariano, who beat Rich Jenkins on Tuesday, will face former New Port Richey City Council member Ginny Miller in November. Miller was unopposed as a Democrat.
But Schrader faced the harshest attacks in his contest.
Nicolette, 47, a Tampa firefighter and Darby ranch owner, lashed at Schrader's record. He painted a picture of a community choked by uncontrolled growth and government spending during Schrader's two terms, although the substance of some of his attacks on Schrader's record proved false.
Schrader, 55, a citrus and real estate businessman, countered by campaigning on his two terms, during which time the commission lowered the tax rate for seven straight years. Schrader also touted his fight for better planning of major development.
"I tried to stay on the issues. Not once did my opponent offer anything he was going to do for them (voters)," Schrader said.
Nicolette also was stung by stories in the Times, including a report that he had to pay more than $27,000 in delinquent property taxes.
And the write-in candidate, John M. Taylor, turned out to be a Nicolette supporter. By joining the race, Taylor closed the election to only Republican voters as Nicolette tried to tap the GOP's conservative vein.
"I can't second guess. I can only say the voters have spoken," Nicolette said Tuesday. "Now we move on. We just try to move on and make the county better."
In a contest between two Beacon Woods residents for the District 5 GOP primary, Mariano had nearly 60 percent of the vote against Jenkins.
Mariano campaigned on his first-term work on pushing the state to lower insurance rates, and a populist tactic to represent what he said was the public's best interest when it comes to development and spending.
Jenkins attacked Mariano for running up government-paid travel and opposing a recent constitutional amendment lowering property taxes.
In southwest Pasco's District 3, Conroy stood to receive the largest share of any commission candidate, 65 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Conroy, who lost her job in the housing downturn, touted her three decades in the county, while Planck, a consultant, emphasized his 22 years in the Coast Guard before moving to Pasco in 2002.
"I always thought I knew the issues best," Conroy said.
Hildebrand easily won her GOP primary in District 3 to move a step closer to a seventh term. She had nearly 62 percent of the vote against former insurance activist Wil Nickerson and electrician Matt Matey.
The well-known Hildebrand, 70, easily outpaced her opponents by raising $96,000, five times the combined total of her rivals.
"I worked very hard, No 1. But I think I ran on my leadership and my community involvement and my record," Hildebrand said.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.