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Callaghan backs Merritt for County Commission

The loser in last week's District 5 Republican primary says Merritt's ideas match his own.

Hoping to further influence the outcome of the County Commission race he lost a week ago, District 5 Republican John Callaghan on Monday endorsed challenger William "Alonzo" Merritt over incumbent Paul Sullivan.

"I talked with Paul. I talked with Merritt," said Callaghan, who pulled a surprising 22.8 percent of the primary vote, forcing an Oct. 3 runoff between the two remaining candidates. "I'm satisfied that Mr. Merritt has a lot of thoughts of his own, and they were closely aligned with my own."

A week earlier, Callaghan suggested he leaned toward Sullivan. However, he explained Monday, that was before he had heard any of Merritt's platform.

"I had no idea what Mr. Merritt knew about any issue, since he hadn't declared any (platform)," Callaghan said.

Meetings with each remaining candidate over the weekend cleared that up, he said. Now Callaghan plans to support Merritt actively.

"He's going to be more open to what people want and listen to them," he said.

Merritt was not available for comment, but his campaign manager, Joe Lentini, welcomed Callaghan's endorsement.

"Alonzo is very happy, and he thanks Mr. Callaghan," Lentini said. "We had a meeting the other night and many of (Callaghan's) supporters attended. They are joining the campaign. We made them a part of the committee."

Sullivan said he had expected Callaghan to back Merritt after their weekend meeting, which lasted more than two hours. It seemed Callaghan thought he had an obligation to back Merritt, Sullivan said.

"We agreed on many issues. But he certainly has a right to support who he wishes, even though it's in conflict with what he initially said election night," he said. "It doesn't do a thing to my campaign. I'm working harder anyway."

Sullivan captured 45.8 percent of the Republican primary vote, compared to Merritt's 31.5 percent. The two will face off again Oct. 3. The winner will face Democrat Mary Coyne Aiken in the Nov. 7 election.

Each has made some campaign adjustments since the first primary, which featured some nasty personal attacks and dirty politics that each candidate has disavowed.

Sullivan, acknowledging he may have been overconfident, said he planned to spend more time in the community listening to residents and their interests. Merritt, meanwhile, said he thought his campaign had not focused enough on issues, and he intended to talk more about items such as growth management.

In a letter addressed to Hernando County voters, Callaghan urged residents to pay attention to the issues and candidates, and not just marketing and advertising. Most important, he said, people need to vote after they get informed.

"If you accept the responsibility to vote," he wrote, "then accept the responsibility to encourage others to do the same."

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