Florida Constitution Party chairman and former U.S. Senate nominee Bernie DeCastro announced a year ago that he was setting his sights a bit lower for 2012, launching a bid to be elected sheriff of Marion County. Little did we know that the race would take some violent, almost comical, swings. Now, with just three weeks left to go before the election, it looks like DeCastro might even have a slim chance at getting elected!
Constitution Candidate Looking to Make Most of Unique Opportunity
A year ago, it looked like Bernie DeCastro would face one of two well-known, well-funded, and highly experienced Republicans in a lop-sided November match-up.
Chris Blair, a 35-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office and the former head of its major crimes unit, narrowly lost the August GOP primary to Undersheriff Daniel Kuhn, the office’s No 2 ranked official. It was a bruising battle that saw both candidates raise and spend nearly $200,000 each.
Everyone assumed that Kuhn, as the Republican nominee and facing only a minor party opponent, was essentially Sheriff-elect.
That was, until last week when Melissa Cook, the head of a private school in Ocala, revealed publicly the details of an extramarital affair with Kuhn. Reportedly, Cook’s steamy details included allegations of sexual encounters going on inside the agency’s headquarters and while Kuhn was on-duty.
Kuhn resigned from his post and quit the race, forcing the county’s Republican Executive Committee to hastily meet and name a new nominee. They chose Chris Blair, the man Kuhn had narrowly beaten in the primary, to take over as the GOP candidate. But there was still a problem. It was now too late to change the ballots, so voters who want to elect Chris Blair will have to cast their votes for the disgraced Dan Kuhn.
Making matters even more complicated for Blair, a write-in candidate had been filed with the state. This is a common practice in Florida elections where one major party expects that the other will not field a candidate in a particular race. If the race had been Blair vs Kuhn, and for some reason had DeCastro not filed at the last minute, then voters from all parties would have been allowed to cast ballots during the Republican primary. Filing a paper write-in candidate solves that problem and ensures that only Republicans would have been allowed to select the next Sheriff.
Comically, there is now concern that because of the write-in candidate that was filed, confused voters may wind up writing in Chris Blair’s name on the blank space that will now appear on the ballot for voters to write-in their choice for Sheriff. But any write-in votes for Blair will not count towards his total, only those votes cast for Kuhn will actually count for Blair.
All of this leaves DeCastro in an interesting position as the only candidate running for Sheriff who actually has HIS OWN NAME printed on the ballot. As of October 12, the Constitution Party nominee had raised $26,000 and spent $21,000 of that. Most of those funds came out of DeCastro’s own pocket.
No Stranger to Politics
DeCastro finished in 7th place in the unusual 2010 Senate contest that also featured then-governor Charlie Crist running as an independent alongside a Democrat and a Republican. DeCastro polled 4,792 votes or 0.09% on Election Day.
“To be sheriff, you don’t have to have law enforcement experience. It’s all about leadership abilities. If you’re a leader, you’re a leader. If you’re not, you’re not,” DeCastro told the Ocala Star Banner last year. “I want to run because — like many Americans — I’m very concerned about federal overreach and federal tyranny that we have never experienced in our lifetimes.”
DeCastro is not entirely unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, having been paroled from prison in 1984 after serving time for a drug-related armed robbery. The would-be Sheriff found Jesus and turned his life around, founding a work-release ministry.
“I don’t think people will hold it against me,” he said of his criminal past. “The old Bernie is no longer alive.”
This is DeCastro’s second bid for office on the Constitution Party line, he was also a long-shot candidate for state house in 2008, running as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.