The race that really matters

Casting the right vote for sheriff is of paramount importance

Republican congressional candidate Lee Anderson, says one close observer, decided early on to focus on getting votes outside of Richmond County.

“I guarantee you that’s why he has a tractor on his signs” – and why the road to Savannah is littered with them, says the observer.

Why? Because of the most intriguing open secret in Augusta politics in years: the expectation that great numbers of Republican voters in the county will be casting ballots in the Democratic primary, not the Republican one – due to the importance of choosing a competent successor for retiring Sheriff Ronnie Strength.

We think it makes perfect sense. In heavily Democratic Richmond County, the Democratic ballot is where the action is.

And there’s no more important action in local politics this year than finding the right man to replace Ronnie Strength. Augusta politics have been nutty, confrontational and occasionally criminal over the past decade or so. The main exception and calming influence has been Sheriff Strength’s department.

We have, frankly, been spectacularly spoiled by a supremely functional sheriff’s department.

That is now at risk.

Moreover, with Augusta’s Weak-Mayor/Cantankerous Commission form of government, the sheriff is arguably the most powerful figure in town.

The impending GOP vote migration has been talked about by candidates for months, and the chatter hit the streets as advance voting in the July 31 primary actually got under way July 9.

Campaigns even have polled the issue. Word is that from 30 to 50 percent of Richmond County Republicans may cross over and vote in the Democratic primary – expressly to vote for sheriff’s candidate Capt. Scott Peebles, widely regarded as head and shoulders above his three competitors.

We chatted with one local Republican who said his wife was going to ask for a Democratic ballot “because she likes Scott Peebles,” but that he was torn and “changing my mind every other day.”

We hope he and many others join his wife in voting in the sheriff’s race.

The 12th District congressional race is undoubtedly important, more so than even in past years because it’s more competitive now: Democrat incumbent John Barrow is more vulnerable than ever, after the Census led to a more Republican-leaning district.

But the race pales in comparison to the Richmond County sheriff’s race, for all the reasons stated above and more: It’s highly unlikely the congressional race will be pivotal; Republicans are most likely to retain control of the U.S. House. They may even add to their seats, and it would delight them to no end to make Barrow’s seat one of them. But again, it won’t change things much.

The sheriff’s race has the capacity to change things greatly in Augusta. Replacing Ronnie Strength with a less-than-top-notch law enforcement officer, with the proper people skills and temperament, would be a massive step backward for this community.

There’s nothing more important on your ballot.

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