Morning brings defeat to sheriff's challenger

Eddie McConnell insisted on waiting to concede as votes were counted. Wednesday came, and brought clarity.

Published November 4, 2004

BROOKSVILLE - Adamant about not conceding defeat until all of the votes were counted, Eddie McConnell woke up Wednesday morning to certain defeat in his race for Hernando County sheriff.

On Tuesday night, as supporters gathered at his campaign headquarters on Sunshine Grove Road, McConnell held out hope that the counting of absentee ballots would help his cause. Across town, incumbent Sheriff Richard Nugent was already celebrating victory.

"Of course, we are really surprised with the returns," McConnell said Wednesday. "I looked at the numbers and had a chance to reflect."

After spending much of his campaign reaching out to voters at forums and on street corners throughout Hernando County - his face still tinged with red from hours in the sun - McConnell spent Wednesday mulling a hard-fought contest and a campaign in which he felt he was prepared to make his case against Nugent.

The large margin of defeat - 62 percent to 38 percent - could have been affected, at least in part, by the presidential race, McConnell said.

A large turnout of voters for Sen. John Kerry might have helped McConnell, a fellow Democrat, the thinking went; but Hernando went for President George W. Bush, which may have helped Nugent, a Republican.

McConnell said he thought a lot of straight-ticket voting might have been his downfall.

Another factor, he said, was that his campaign did not generate the financial backing to trump Nugent, who netted $41,000 at an event in August 2003. It became one of the most lucrative fundraising events in county history.

McConnell said the fundraising gap prohibited him from reaching more people, particularly those receptive to direct mailings. He trailed Nugent's $53,778 in fundraising by about $17,200, campaign finance reports show.

"I could not find anything that we did wrong and nothing that we won't do again," he said.

Obviously stunned at Tuesday's outcome, McConnell said voters, in choosing Nugent for a second four-year term, should continue to hold the sheriff's administration accountable for its actions.

"Now that they made their choice, they should get the level of service from the current administration that they want and, if not, let them know about it," he said.

When asked whether he would consider a third run for sheriff in 2008, McConnell said it was too early to consider it. But he did not close the door on the possibility.

"Only time will tell," he said.

In the meantime, McConnell said, he plans to relax and go on vacation. Then he will return to his job in the criminal investigations division at the Brooksville Police Department.

Duane Bourne can be reached at 352 754-6114 or dbourne@sptimes.com