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Pasco sheriff wins third term with smaller margin

Four years ago, Bob White sailed into his second term as sheriff with more than 60 percent of the vote, dusting his opponent by 63,000 votes.

This year, the road was far rockier, leading again to victory but with a margin of just 4,000 votes.

Among White's obstacles:

• His opponents kept up a steady barrage of criticism;

• The Democratic presidential nominee stirred up turnout locally;

• A no-party candidate plucked votes from White, a Republican, and his Democratic rival Kim Bogart.

Tuesday night ended with a startlingly close result for a sheriff who collected more than $200,000 in campaign contributions, enjoyed the backing of Gov. Charlie Crist and had no major scandals or gaffes to give voters reason to replace him.

And his numbers spiraled downward. In 2004, White won with 123,437 votes. This year, that number was 103,605, and more than 104,000 went to the other two candidates.

White, who became Pasco's first sheriff in 50 years to win a third term, on Wednesday spoke mostly of his gratitude at being re-elected. But he had also done a bit of his own day-after quarterbacking.

"I think the Obama factor had something to do with it," he said, referring to the Democratic president-elect. "They hit the Obama button and then they went down and hit my opponent's button.

"We realized that much of the early voting was the turnout of Democrats that turned out specifically to vote for Obama. And in doing so, we picked up some of the negative votes out of that just because of the party affiliation."

He also attributed the margin to "misinformation" disseminated by Bogart and the deputies unions.

"For people who don't pay attention, it can be confusing," he said. "And why should they pay attention? They depend on us to watch out for (public safety)."

White said he tried to run a positive campaign, using no negative mailers or calls to attack his opponents.

Bogart, on the other hand, made a big issue of White's record. He sent two mailers out on the weekend before the election. One contained grainy photos of the sheriff, red X's preceding lists of his missteps, all under the headline "Sheriff Bob White has failed us!"

But it may have come too late. By Sunday, about half of the vote had already been cast in early voting and absentee ballots.

"You had all of those people voting without the knowledge of having seen the campaign," said County Commissioner Michael Cox, a Democrat who helped Bogart.

Cox said a Pasco Democratic Party poll showed people thought crime and safety were a problem in Pasco, including gang activity. But he acknowledged, "Sheriff White has done a solid job."

White would be quick to agree.

"When you do a good job, you either get a raise or you get promoted. You usually don't get fired," he said. "Our people have done an exceptional job under difficult circumstances."

Looking ahead, White said he is bracing for having to do more with less because of dwindling resources in the current economic climate.

And after two years of not reaching an agreement on a contract with the labor unions (which backed Bogart) White had harsh words for the people in charge.

"I basically have no confidence in the union leadership because it's never been about the troops," he said. "So I'll have to see what transpires. I'll have to see what their commitment is."

He repeated his assertion from the campaign that his re-election is a plus for deputies, who don't have to break in a new boss.

"I just think that the eight-year revolving door stops the progress," he said, "and when the progress stops, the service to the people stops."

Staff writer David DeCamp contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco sheriff wins third term with smaller margin 11/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 12:27pm]
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