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In the end, the three-man Republican primary battle to take on incumbent Sheriff Jeff Dawsy this fall became a two-man sprint and Winn Webb emerged the victor.
“I can’t take credit for this. I have to thank the Lord. The Lord has really blessed me,” Webb said soon after the vote tally Tuesday night.
Webb had 43.42 percent of the vote to edge his closest challenger, Steve Burch. Burch got 37.32 percent. Hank Hemrick came in third with 19.24 percent of the vote. The total vote cast was 14,624.
Webb also thanked his army of volunteers for the great job they did on his behalf.
“I think things turned out the way they did because I have a proven track record. Everybody talks the talk, but I talk the talk and walk the walk,” he said.
Webb said he is going to stay on “pretty much” the message as he takes on Dawsy in the Nov. 6 election.
Challenger Burch sounded a conciliatory note Tuesday night and was glad to see such high voter reaction toward him. Burch said he also wants to collaborate with primary winner Webb in the near future.
“It was a good campaign and I wish I could’ve won, but I think that’s a pretty good turnout,” said Burch about his share of the votes.
“I congratulate Winn Webb and I hope to work together with Winn Webb.”
Hemrick did not return Chronicle’s call for comment at press time.
From the start, Webb emphasized his local roots and familiarity with the sheriff’s office, having served as a deputy for 17 years before retiring in 2008. That same year, he ran for and became a county commissioner.
During the campaign Webb highlighted that experience, handling budgetary matters as a commissioner and his singular vote against the sheriff’s office’s efforts to merge with the formerly county-controlled fire services division.
He also billed himself as the only “fiscal conservative in the race.”
Burch, the former police chief of Crystal River, made extensive management experience the centerpiece of his campaign.
Burch had touted his 28 years in law enforcement, 20 of which were spent in management positions including positions where he made and executed budgets.
He had vowed to streamline the agency’s budget by making the necessary cuts required to put the agency on a sound fiscal footing.
Burch began his career at Clearwater Police Department and was the last police chief in Crystal River before the sheriff’s office took over operations in 2008. Burch also served a short stint as police chief in Lake City.
Hemrick is a retired deputy warden of the New York City Department of Correction. Hemrick has run unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2004 and 2008. He also finished third in a three-way school board race.
Throughout the campaign season, Hemrick has sounded one theme more than any — his desire to ramp up the fight against the drug scourge.
He also took issue with what he called the sheriff’s office’s top-heavy management structure pointing to nearly $2 million in salaries and benefits in that area.
He also stressed his concerns for upholding the Constitution, saying he would safeguard individual liberties while taking a tough stance on fighting drugs and aggressive driving.
Webb has promised to place the agency’s fixed-wing plane on eBay his first day in office.
Webb also wants to see an image overhaul in the agency with more emphasis on building a better rapport between residents and deputies.
Fiscally, he wants to introduce line-item budgeting.
Chronicle reporter A.B. Sidibe can be reached at 352-564-2925 or email@example.com. Intern Buster Thompson contributed to this story.