Hillsborough Sheriff: Chad Chronister poised to win over Gary Pruitt

David Gee's hand-picked successor has strong lead with most precincts reporting
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister was appointed to the post last year and is running for his first full term as a republican. He faces Democrat Gary Pruitt, a former Tampa police corporal. [Times file]
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister was appointed to the post last year and is running for his first full term as a republican. He faces Democrat Gary Pruitt, a former Tampa police corporal. [Times file]
Published November 6 2018
Updated November 6 2018

THE LATEST:

• Appointed Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, a Republican, has what looks like an insurmountable lead over Democrat Gary Pruitt, with 55 percent to Pruitt's 45 percent.

• The reported results include mail ballots, early voting and 354 of 390 precincts reporting.

• Check out more Florida elections results here.

TAMPA — Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister will keep the job he was appointed to last year.

Chronister, a Tampa Republican, had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead over Democrat Gary Pruitt with 354 of 390 precincts reporting, according to unofficial election results.

A victory means the long-standing tradition of Hillsborough sheriffs handpicking their successors will continue at least until 2020, when Chronister will have to appear on the ballot again to win a full four-year term.

Along with predecessor David Gee's endorsement, Chronister had time, money and the title of sheriff on his side. He didn't draw a primary opponent, and by the time voters started casting ballots in the general election, the 26-year veteran of the agency had been wearing the sheriff's badge for more than a year and spent more than $1 million on his campaign.

Pruitt, meanwhile, failed to marshal enough financial resources and grassroots support to pose a serious challenge. Most of the $13,700 he raised was a loan to his own campaign.

But Chronister, 50, said he never expected to win in a blowout considering the large number of Democrats in the county. He's happy with the results.

"To have this type of lead reaffirms the fact that the community supports me, the Sheriff's Office and the progress we've made," he said.

Chronister was a colonel when Gee abruptly announced his retirement last year. By then, Gee had already begun grooming Chronister and asked Gov. Rick Scott to appoint him to serve until the next election. Chronister was sworn in Oct. 1, 2017 and immediately started raking in campaign cash and putting his stamp on the agency.

By last week, he'd raised nearly $1.3 million — a record for a local race in Tampa Bay — and had spent nearly all of it, campaign finance records show. About $460,000 of that total came in to a political action committee called Law Enforcement for Responsible Government. Chronister is married to Nikki DeBartolo, daughter of businessman and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, and the DeBartolos and their associates donated at least $148,000 to the campaign.

A 50-year-old retired Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at Westfield Citrus Park mall, Pruitt cast himself as a foil to the tradition of passing on the sheriff's job to an anointed successor. He pledged to create a citizens advisory committee, unionize deputies and increase diversity at the agency, especially on the command staff. But local Democratic Party officials complained that Pruitt failed to engage with them, passing up the chance to garner resources and volunteers.

Meanwhile, Chronister was hiring the first female chief deputy and tapping several minorities for his command staff. He worked to expand the county's juvenile citation program and create a pre-arrest diversion program for adult offenders who would otherwise be charged with misdemeanors such as drug possession or shoplifting. And he helped lead the effort to get security guards in county schools.

For national and statewide election results check out The Buzz

For local election results check out the Bay Buzz

For school board election results check out The Gradebook.

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