Originally created 03/31/04

Sheriff sees no contest in race



AIKEN - It's four more years for Aiken County Sheriff Mike Hunt.

The 42-year-old Republican incumbent, in office 10 months after a special election last May, effectively won re-election by default when no one filed to challenge him for the office by the Tuesday noon qualifying deadline.

It's the first time in 40 years there will be an uncontested election for Aiken County sheriff, an indication, perhaps, of the high level of approval county residents give the new sheriff.

"It's a good feeling," Sheriff Hunt said Tuesday. "It's a good feeling knowing I can concentrate on work and not have to worry about campaigning so much."

Sheriff Hunt swept into office on a wave of voter discontent with the administration of previous Sheriff Howard Sellers, who left the post for a homeland security position. Sheriff Hunt convincingly beat Mr. Sellers' hand-picked successor, Jody Rowland, in the Republican primary and won the special election almost as an afterthought in this heavily Republican county.

State Rep. Skipper Perry, R-Aiken, called the fact that Sheriff Hunt would go unopposed this election "a remarkable feat."

"That's usually a pretty bloody battle," Mr. Perry said.

Pledging better communication with other law enforcement agencies, improved call response time and beefed-up patrols, Sheriff Hunt immediately became a visible presence after taking office. His hands-on approach and frequent public appearances appear to have rendered him politically bulletproof, supporters say.

"He's done an excellent job in his first year, and I think people recognize that," Mr. Perry said. "I'd think twice about running against him."

Echoed Carrol Busbee, a former director of the Aiken Department of Public Safety and an informal adviser to Sheriff Hunt, "I think Mike's record on what he's done since the special election is the reason he doesn't have any opposition."

Robert Gossett, the sheriff's campaign manager, said Sheriff Hunt's proven fund-raising abilities - he raised about $100,000 in the primary battle with Mr. Rowland - might have deterred challengers.

"We knew someone looking in from the outside saw Mike could raise the big money," Mr. Gossett said.

Sheriff Hunt said that while his re-election is assured, he will continue to work 12-to-14-hour days and remain in the public eye.

"We've been working hard for the past year, and we will continue to work in that style for the next four years," he said.

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110,

or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com