Saturday, March 10, 2012
By The Outsider
Sheriff Ronnie Strength ended months of speculation yesterday on whether or not he would stick around for a fourth term, saying that "Everyone should know when it’s time, and I think my time has come.” To many local political observers, this should be great news to Lt. Richard Roundtree, who had previously stated that he would not seek the job if Strength decided to run for another term. And now it appears there may be at least two other candidates fighting over the vote, Capt. Scott Peebles and Lt. Robbie Silas, who is Strength's brother-in-law. But the biggest beneficiary of Strenth's exit politically could come in the 12 District Republican Congressional race.
The Augusta-Richmond County Sheriff's race is partisan, and for all practical purposes a candidate must run on the Democratic ballot to have any chance of being elected. And for a race that rarely had challengers in the past, this is starting to shape up to be a crowded field. Many of the powerful movers and shakers from the Augusta business and political community were desperately trying to get Strength to stay on for one more term. Strength could have easily been swept into a 4th term, likely with no opposition on the ballot. But the Sheriff made it clear; the time had come to move on. Though Cpt Scott Peebles and Lt Robbie Silas possess strong credentials, some fear that they won't be able to stave off a challenge from a strong, well-funded black candidate with high name recognition. So an election that was always more of a coronation is looking to be a real contest this year and you better bet a lot of resources will be put into it by the political establishment to deny the Sheriff's job to Roundtree.
But there's a problem. There's also a Republican nomination contest held on the same day for the 12th Congressional district. So Republicans in Richmond County will have to decide if they want to vote in the Sheriff's race or vote in the Republican primary to decide who will face Congressman John barrow in the general election. New Congressional district lines favor a Republican from the metro Augusta area, with both Richmond and Columbia counties being lumped into District 12. However, that advantage could be trumped if large numbers of Richmond County Republicans choose a Democratic ballot to sway the Sheriff's race, instead of voting in the Republican primary.
The biggest loser in this scenario would appear to be Rick W. Allen. The prominent construction contractor is counting on high Republican turnout in West Augusta combined with a good showing in suburban Columbia County to propel him past his other local challengers, State Rep. Lee Anderson and attorney Wright Mcleod. But a high profile Sheriff's race could erode away many of his votes in Richmond County and leave him on the short-end fighting with Anderson and Mcleod for Columbia County, which is their home base. Also, lingering questions over rising expenses and delays over the controversial TEE Center, could haunt Allen, whose firm is constructing the building.
The big winner in all of this could be Maria Sheffield. A native of Laurens County, she would be the one most likely to benefit from a 3-way fight among Allen, Anderson, and Mcleod for Augusta area votes. And with many Richmond County Republicans choosing a Democratic ballot to choose the next Sheriff, that will take a big chunk of votes away from the local boys. By positioning herself as the candidate of the rest of the 12th district outside of metro Augusta, she could find enough votes to propel her to the nomination.
But Sheffield has an opportunity to make an impression with voters on Rick Allen's home turf. The West Augusta Alliance will host a forum for the GOP 12th district Congressional candidates this upcoming Monday at 7pm at the Warren Road Community Center. So far, Maria Sheffield, Lee Anderson, and Wright McCleod have confirmed their participation. Strangely missing from the mix is Rick Allen. We have been told by officials with the West Augusta Alliance that Allen's campaign has thus far not returned any of their phone calls or emails. It would seem that Rick Allen would be courting every vote possible, particularly in West Augusta, appealing for them to turn out on July 31st and take a GOP ballot instead of crossing over to vote in the Sheriff's race. What kind of impression will his snub of the West Augusta Alliance Forum leave on voters, particularly in his own back yard? This could be a golden opportunity for Sheffield. Will she be able to seize it and ride it all the way to Congress? We shall see.***
UPDATE: After this story published, The West Augusta Alliance finally received confirmation from Rick Allen's campaign that he would be participating in Monday's candidate forum.