Despite an active support base, businessman Lewis Blanchard was unable to get the votes Tuesday to unseat Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle.
Sheriff Clay Whittle greets supporters at the Evans Government Center where he was watching the results of the election.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
With 44 of 45 precincts reporting in the county's Republican primary, Mr. Whittle received 15,440 votes, or 74 percent. Mr. Blanchard received 5,512, or 26 percent.
Because there is no Democratic candidate, Sheriff Whittle will remain the county's top lawman.
"I think the people of Columbia County understand what we're doing and liked it," Sheriff Whittle said about his wide margin of victory.
Strong support for both candidates was one reason voter turnout was high in Columbia County's primaries.
Sheriff Whittle, 44, has held the job since 1995 after winning a special election to replace former sheriff Otis Hensley, who died.
Throughout his campaign this year, Sheriff Whittle positioned himself as more experienced and qualified than Mr. Blanchard, 39, and emphasized the county's declining crime rate in recent years.
"I wanted to make a change; I wanted to make things better," Mr. Blanchard said from his campaign party at Dye's Southern Grill on Flowing Wells Road. "I'm disappointed, but I'm not sad, and I have no regrets."
Mr. Blanchard, who owns a corporate hospitality company in Augusta, previously worked as a public safety officer for the Columbia County School System and as a reserve deputy for the sheriff's office.
He campaigned on his ability to better manage the office's $15 million budget and pledged to focus more on drugs in the county.
Giving a concession speech to a crowd of supporters, Mr. Blanchard said he would not rule out the possibility of running again.
"If a change is still needed 4 years from now, doggone, I will (run)," he said to shouts of "2008."
Sheriff Whittle, who worked his way up through the ranks of the sheriff's office, said he was pleased about getting the nod.
"I'm so thrilled," he said. "I want to thank the citizens of Columbia County for their support."
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at 868-1222, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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