MANATEE -- Longtime state lawmaker Mike Bennett took one step closer Tuesday night to extending his stay in public office with a comfortable win in the Republican primary for the Manatee supervisor of elections seat.
Bennett leveraged his political experience and an overwhelming cash advantage to an 8 percentage-point margin of victory in the highly contested GOP race, earning 9,193 votes, or nearly 37 percent of the total.
With more qualified candidates than any other local election, the supervisor's race Tuesday saw four experienced Republicans spar for a shot to replace Bob Sweat, who is retiring after 28 years in office.
Bennett now will meet lone Democrat and local pastor Charles Williams Jr. and write-in Rodney "Smokey" Smithley, who first filed as a Republican, in the November general elections.
"I have 10 plus years of legislative experience, and I think people appreciate the good job I did representing Manatee County in Tallahassee," said Bennett, who kept tabs of the results quietly at his home. "Obviously, I'm happy with the way it went."
Bennett owns several area real estate investments, his Linger Lodge restaurant and an ownership share of the Ellenton Ice Sports Complex.
Among the candidates, the 67-year-old Bradenton man also has the most robust resume in government.
Bennett, spent a total of 12 years in the Florida Legislature, including the past 10 in the state Senate, where he's reached term limits.
That experience was evident in his lofty contribution balance sheet.
The long-time senator raised a final count of $134,850 -- giving Bennett nearly quadruple the finances of his closest contender and more than any other candidate could muster in a local race, according to election records.
Cash proved king throughout the Republican supervisor's race, and each GOP candidate finished in same voting order as their fundraising position.
"In this race you didn't need a negative campaign to win," Bennett said. "It was a great, great race."
In what was his first run at a public office, Edward Bailey finished the race in the No. 2 spot, collecting just more than 29 percent of the votes.
But the 36-year-old Palmetto businessman, who grew up in Manatee County, said it likely won't be the last time voters hear from him. He, too, praised the entire slate of candidates for running a clean race.
Bailey also finished the second in fundraising, with $33,933. He now will continue his job as finance manager for Sarasota Ford.
Supervisor of Elections
"I learned a lot, met some great people and picked up a ton of support along the way," Bailey said from his watch party at the Lost Kangaroo Pub in downtown Bradenton. "I stand behind (Bennett). I know he will make a great supervisor of elections."
Jane Von Hahmann, who also comes with a background in politics, finished the night with 27 percent of the votes.
The 58-year-old Cortez woman served on the Manatee County Commission from 2001 to 2008, when she was ousted by current Commissioner John Chappie in the GOP primary.
Von Hahmann had been working as a business service specialist for the Manatee County School Board before stepping down in March to focus on the campaign.
She has a reported $12,590 in contributions.
Von Hahmann, who qualified from petitions, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Richard Bedford, a former minority partner with De Morgan Homes, collected 7 percent of the votes. He also finished last in fundraising at $10,940 and could not be reached Tuesday.
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman