Former Sheriff Jim Gillum and probation officer Ken Tallier are headed for an Oct. 1 runoff for the right to challenge Sheriff Lee Cannon in the November general election.
With all the votes counted Tuesday night, Tallier and Gillum were running a close 1-2 in the race, with former Port Richey police Chief Finley Gable in third place.
Cannon easily won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday, outpacing challengers Mike Kennedy and Steve Trabayko by a wide margin.
"I think the results show the voters have confidence in me and, more importantly, in the men and women of the Sheriff's Office. This is a victory for them as much as it is for me," said Cannon, celebrating his victory with family and friends near his home in Land O'Lakes.
As the final votes trickled in, Gillum was confident at his home in Veterans Village.
"I think the fact that I placed in the runoff surprised a lot of people," he said. "But there is no doubt that I can run a Sheriff's Office."
As the incumbent, Cannon amassed far more money than any of his challengers: nearly $70,000. But he took hits throughout the campaign, mostly over his $36-million budget, which critics called top heavy, and the failure to put more deputies on the road.
Kennedy tried to hurt Cannon with a long-promised "bombshell." It turned out to be a tabloid newspaper that detailed a 17-year-old internal affairs investigation in which Cannon admitted buying a drink for a 16-year-old confidential informant.
The key allegations of the investigation _ that Cannon knew of a prostitution ring being run out of the informant's home and was aware of underage drinking _ were deemed unfounded.
As for the effect of Kennedy's "bombshell," Cannon said: "The voters sent a message that they won't tolerate that type of politics and they don't want to hear the dirt. They're just not interested in that."
Kennedy promised a second "bombshell" in time for a October runoff. But he could not force a runoff on the Democratic side.
Trabayko, a Hudson lawyer, ran a much more low-key campaign than Kennedy, although he too was critical of Cannon's record as sheriff, saying morale had declined since Cannon took office.
Cannon's campaign focused on what he saw as the successes of his first term: programs targeting juvenile crime, drugs and domestic violence.
He touted tougher hiring standards, better safety equipment for officers and an improvement in morale and working conditions since he took office.
On the Republican side, Gillum, who served two terms as sheriff from 1984 to 1992, got the dirt flying early, launching attacks against his opponents the day he announced.
The volley of insults and accusations continued throughout the race, with Gillum labeling Gable "crazy" and former sheriff's Sgt. Oonagh Guenkel "inexperienced."
On Tuesday, he would say little of the man he is likely to face in the October runoff.
"Tallier's a nice guy," he said. "That's about all there is to say."
A former New York City detective with seven years as a Pasco detective, Tallier said he wants to increase the size of the road patrol by eliminating the entire rank of major, some civilian director positions and at least two lieutenant positions.
Tallier has been active in party politics and generated criticism as a deputy when he headed up a criminal investigation against County Commissioner Sylvia Young, a political enemy.
He defended that investigation and insisted that politics would not play a role in the Sheriff's Office under his direction.