MANATEE -- Sheriff Brad Steube won four more years as Manatee County's top lawman Tuesday in a landslide.
The incumbent and 36-year law enforcement veteran received 32,442 votes to 8,972 for challenger William Waldron in the election for Manatee County sheriff in a "universal primary" open to all voters, not just registered Republicans, because only two GOP candidates qualified for the race.
Steube, 58, spent election night with supporters at The River Club.
"I'm very grateful to the people of Manatee County for returning me as their sheriff," said the incumbent, who was appointed to the post in April 2007, elected the next year and has been with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office since 1978.
"I think citizens are happy with what we're doing," he said. "Violent crime is down 30 percent since I took office ... and that's because of the men and women of the sheriff's office. The citizens believe in that and that's why the put me back in office."
Steube also had a significant edge in campaign funds, raising $123,560 to Waldron's $12,447.39, according to the supervisor of elections office.
"We had a race to run and we did what we had to do," Steube said. "We ran a clean race, talked about what we've accomplished and still want to accomplish."
Besides keeping focused on crime, Steube said his most pressing order of business is winning pay increases for his rank and file.
"We've got to improve the salaries of the folks who work for us each and every day," he said. "My pay compression is very severe because the county commission has not addressed this issue incrementally and it gets worse and worse for us. Other agencies are getting pay increases in their entry level salary and we're not."
Consequently, Steube has cut positions and lost employees to adjacent counties.
"More deputies and more money would bring our crime and solvability rates closer together," he said. Manatee County ranks ninth in the state in crime and 59th in solvability. "If crime goes down, it will bring business, which will bring jobs."
Waldron, 46, watched election results with family at his West Bradenton home and was equanimous over the outcome.
"It is what it is," he said. "I'm disappointed but not surprised. I figured with absentee ballots he'd have a majority initially."
When the elections office first posted its early returns, Steube had seized a prohibitive lead. With 90 of 113 precincts reporting the sheriff had 28,761 votes to the challenger's 7,895.
Waldron, a member of the MCSO from 1999 to 2010 before retiring as a detective, knew he faced heavy odds going into the election.
"I was hopeful and got a good response from everyone I talked to, but between fundraising and campaigning, it was tough, a learning experience," Waldron said.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix