tampabay.com

Nugent 'thrilled' as he heads to easy win

By DUANE BOURNE
Published November 3, 2004


BROOKSVILLE - If Democratic challenger James "Eddie" McConnell was looking for a replay of his close race in 2000 for Hernando County sheriff, it didn't appear it would happen.

Incumbent Sheriff Richard Nugent jumped to an early lead Tuesday night and maintained it throughout the evening.

"I am always nervous about it, but I am just thrilled to death," Nugent said. "I am a little speechless."

In what was anticipated by many to be a close race, Nugent was overwhelming McConnell on Tuesday night, polling more than 60 percent of the vote, with most of the precincts counted. In 2000, Nugent defeated McConnell by 3 percentage points.

At 9 p.m., McConnell still had not conceded defeat. He held out hope at his campaign headquarters, waiting for a final precinct and absentee votes to be counted.

"Any of those votes could change anything," he said. "I am not going to concede; not until it's over."

In 2000, McConnell, a former sergeant at the Sheriff's Office who now works as a detective at the Brooksville Police Department, attributed his defeat to then-Sheriff Tom Mylander's support of Nugent and the presence of third-party candidate in the race.

Nugent said Tuesday he thought some of those independents, as well as some Democrats, voted for him this year.

Flanked by supporters and a large projection screen at the Palace Grand in Spring Hill, Nugent admitted he was nervous but not surprised by the groundswell of support he received from voters.

"That would be to say that everything we did over the last four years did not count," Nugent said. "It proves that the citizens are comfortable with what we have done over the last four years. The vote shows to me that we are on the right track."

During his campaign, McConnell portrayed Nugent as a top-heavy administrator who showed favoritism and who was more interested in promoting his political ambition than logical law enforcement strategies.

Nugent, who pledged not to take cheap shots at his opponent, stood on his four years as sheriff, extolling his youth programs and crime reduction model, as well decreases in crime rates.

He said McConnell was ill-equipped to chart the course of Hernando public safety and lacked the education and law enforcement background to run a growing Sheriff's Office.

McConnell told voters throughout his campaign that he worked his way up the ranks of the Sheriff's Office after joining the department as a deputy in 1978. Unlike Nugent, he said, he had "dirt under my fingernails."