From the beginning, it looked huge.
Shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m., a loud cheer rang through the neon-lit Groove Street Grille in Fort Myers where Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott was holding an election results party. Scott had received 90 percent of absentee ballots over opponent Rod Shoap in Tuesday’s Republican primary.
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A group of supporters suddenly came over to congratulate the sheriff.
“Is that all of it?” a confused Scott asked. “Is it in?”
No, it was just the beginning. As the night wore on, the absurdly large lead would not only hold, but it grew by another percentage point.
In the end, with 99 percent of the precinct’s reporting as of press time, Scott had 91 percent of the vote to Shoap’s 9 percent, a difference of more than 35,000 votes. For the second election in a row, Scott defeated Shoap, this time even more soundly than in 2004, when Scott received 62 percent of the vote to Shoap’s 38 percent.
For Shoap, confusion and skepticism set in as he watched the results from his Cape Coral home.
“I’m struggling to read them,” he said around 8:30. “I really don’t understand. I’ve never seen this before.”
Never had he seen a candidate in a contested election win by such a margin, he said.
Asked to clarify what he meant, Shoap said, “I don’t know. I’m just telling you things I find unusual.”
The Lee County Supervisor of Elections office hadn’t determined if the margin of victory was a record by Tuesday night. Scott moves on to face Christian Meister, a Coast Guard veteran, in November’s general election. Meister is not affiliated with a party and did not have to compete in a primary.
Scott said he may stop campaigning for the general election. The Republican primary, he noted, has traditionally decided the winner of the November contest.
Tuesday’s trouncing felt more like a general election win.
<img src="http://ms2.naplesnews.com/npdn/content/img/photos/2008/08/26/080826NS-MF-LeeSheriff27_t600.jpg" width="352" />Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott won in a landslide victory over former sheriff Rod Shoap Tuesday evening. Scott celebrated with friends, family and co-workers at Groove Street in Fort Myers. Michel Fortier/Staff
Before a packed crowd, Scott basked in his victory, playing a montage of songs that celebrated the win and sent more than a few barbs Shoap’s way.
A deejay played “We are the Champions,” as Scott lifted his arms.
The crowd hooped and hollered in approval.
Of Shoap, he told the crowd, “apparently 62 percent wasn’t enough,” a reference to the 2004 election results. He noted the former sheriff had lost two out of three elections (Shoap defeated John McDougall in 2000).
Shoap faced several key disadvantages throughout the contest. He entered the race late, filing for candidacy in March 2008, nearly two years after Scott began fund raising. The sheriff had more than $100,000 in his campaign coffers just as Shoap began to put together his run.
The fund raising difference would only grow. By Tuesday’s primary, the former sheriff had only raised $27,000 to Scott’s $262,000.
The money paid for extensive advertising such as television commercials, which Shoap couldn’t afford.
But the former sheriff insisted he didn’t need the outreach to defeat Scott. Instead, he said, he would rely on a message of financial restraint and lowering crime rates.
In interviews and forums, Shoap relied on statistics showing a heightened county crime rate under Scott, as well as a rising budget.
But it was Scott who curried the favor of media and the public. He gained endorsements from the area’s two largest newspapers and his candidacy was more visible in campaign signs and bumper stickers.
On Tuesday, he said he never expected such a large margin of victory.
Asked about the challenges of his next term, Scott mentioned crime spurred by an economic downturn coupled with the area’s large growth in the past few years.
During the results party though, Scott balanced the anticipation of the next four years with the excitement of the moment.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he said after seeing the absentee ballots results. “But I have a lot of work to do.” -- Steven Beardsley