EDGEFIELD, S.C. - If you live in Edgefield County, you'd have to be blind not to know there's a sheriff's race going on.
Whether turnout will be significant for the June 8 Republican primary is anyone's guess, but both GOP sheriff candidates Dan Choate and Stacey Coleman are making sure they are well represented with campaign signs throughout the county. In some cases, their plywood and paper creations stare at each other across road intersections.
"Sometimes they're side by side," said Edgefield County Republican Party Chairman Frank Maurer, who said his "life would have been easier" had just one candidate from his party run for sheriff.
The campaign of dueling signs took a twist last week when someone slashed 10 of Mr. Choate's larger ones, costing his campaign about $1,000.
Mr. Choate, who calls those responsible "cowardly vandals," says he has no reason to think his opponent is behind it.
Mr. Coleman says he was as disappointed as his opponent over the damage.
"I just hope the sheriff's office will make an arrest," he said, adding that he and Mr. Choate asked the office to look into the vandalism. "I wouldn't like that happening to my signs."
The two men are facing off to see who will run against incumbent Democrat Adell Dobey. Mr. Choate and Mr. Coleman agree that drugs are the most pressing law enforcement issue facing the county and that patrols need to be beefed up. They differ, however, on how to address those issues.
Mr. Coleman, an investigator with the Aiken County Solicitor's office and a former narcotics investigator for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, wants to enlist more reserve deputies as a short-term answer to manpower issues until county funding can provide permanent solutions.
"Obviously, the more deputies you have on shift, the more comfortable the community is, but at the same time you have to be reasonable and know what your limitations are," Mr. Coleman said. Encouraging better community interaction through citizen advisory panels can help provide "eyes and ears" on the street, he said.
Mr. Choate says that if he's elected, he will go to the county commission and ask for more positions, hoping that federal and state grants will help offset costs. He would like to see the shift of two road deputies and one supervisor eventually doubled.
"You hope you can show the council that the growth of the county has outpaced the growth of the department," Mr. Choate said.
Mr. Choate is running on his age - at 54, he's 20 years older than his primary challenger - and experience as a retired senior SLED agent.
Mr. Coleman says that as an investigator with both the solicitor's office and the sheriff's office, he brings dual perspectives on law enforcement Mr. Choate can't offer. He also stresses the use of innovations - including offering rehabilitation resources to addicts - to deal with drugs in the county.
"You want to try to address it on two fronts."
Mr. Maurer doesn't believe that the primary victor will win by a wide margin, and points out that both candidates appear to have pockets of support in various sections of the county.
"Like everybody else, I'm kind of looking forward to June 8," he said.
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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