Aided by a spoiler in the race, Bob White fended off a fierce challenge Tuesday night to narrowly win a third term as Pasco County sheriff.
With all precincts reporting, White led Democrat Kim Bogart by about 3,900 votes — a spread of less than 2 percentage points.
The surprising margin could be explained by the presence on the ballot of Bobby Kinzy, a no-party candidate with no law enforcement experience, who racked up about 5,100 votes.
White, a 58-year-old Republican, campaigned on the assertion that his system of fighting crime is working and should be kept in place. He said a victory for Bogart, a former commander under previous sheriffs, would be a return to the bad old days.
Celebrating with supporters at Spartan Manor in New Port Richey, White said he thinks the county will benefit from no disruption at the helm of its top law enforcement agency.
"I think that it's going to be so much better for the deputies than they know, because they won't have to start over (with a new boss). It's going to be so much better for the citizens because our momentum won't stop," said White, who became the first Pasco sheriff in a half-century to win a third term.
Bogart, 56, was a captain under former Sheriff Lee Cannon. He was ousted when White took office in 2001.
He chalked up the loss to the power of incumbency.
"There's clearly a difference in funding," said Bogart, who raised about $143,000 in contributions to White's $206,000. He said White's main advantage was his title — "being able to use the agency to represent yourself."
The race was defined by three major issues: the state of crime in the county, spending and employee morale.
Bogart said violent crime in Pasco has been steadily rising under White's watch. White countered that Pasco's statistics beat the state averages. They're both right, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement figures.
White's budgetary judgment was heavily criticized by Bogart.
And the sheriff sustained a barrage of attacks by his deputies' unions, who have battled with him over a labor contract and last week endorsed Bogart.
"I would like to be optimistic and say that I hope we can put the past behind us, moving forward, trying to mend the adversarial role that we've been taking this last year, and work toward a positive agreement," said Gary Kling, president of the supervisors' union.
White plans to talk about his new priorities soon. But on Tuesday, he just wanted to celebrate.
"Right now I'm congratulating my team, and I just want the citizens to know how grateful we all are for their confidence," he said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.