DeWitt to Run for Sheriff as Republican; Sutton Undecided

January 20, 2011

Robert “Skip” DeWitt, who lost the Democratic primary for Cecil County Sheriff in 2010, will run again for Sheriff in 2014—but this time as a Republican.

That move could create a possible re-match—but across party lines—with Democrat Chris Sutton, who defeated DeWitt in the 2010 Democratic primary for Sheriff. Sutton lost the general election to incumbent Republican Barry Janney. Janney has announced he will not seek re-election in 2014.

In an interview with Cecil Times, DeWitt said he had changed his political party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in the past week and on Monday evening attended his first-ever GOP event, a meeting of the Cecil County Republican Club. He also declared that he would be a candidate for sheriff in four years.

“I’m a card-carrying Republican now,” DeWitt said. “I don’t consider the Democrats to be conservative,” he said, and “I really like what the Republicans stand for.”

DeWitt’s late father was a Democrat who served as county sheriff for many years and was widely popular with local citizens of both political parties.

DeWitt’s party shift could create an intriguing political scenario for the always hotly contested Cecil County Sheriff’s slot.

In an interview with Cecil Times, Sutton said he has made no decision about whether he will run again for Sheriff. However, state election board records show he has not closed his 2010 campaign committee and he could continue to raise funds for a possible future run.

Sutton has a strong base of supporters who contributed generously to his campaign last year, and to his earlier unsuccessful run against Janney four years ago. While running as a Democrat, Sutton drew support across party lines, his campaign finance reports show.

Commenting on DeWitt’s party shift, Sutton said in an interview, “I think he burned his bridges with the Democrats” by endorsing Janney over Sutton in the general election.

On his Facebook page, Sutton observed of DeWitt’s party shift: “I guess he figures since he stabbed everyone on one side he will now try another. To all of my good Republican friends, please be careful of him…”

DeWitt had his own observations on Sutton, telling Cecil Times: “Cecil County deserves better than Chris Sutton.”

While DeWitt and Sutton appear to be the leading prospects for the contest at this early stage, they would no doubt face a crowded field of challengers in their respective party primaries since, with Janney out of the picture, it will be a wide open field. “I think a lot of people will throw their hats in the ring,” Sutton said.

DeWitt could face a spirited challenge in the GOP primary if Dan Slater chooses to run again. Slater challenged Janney in the primary last year and, after a slow start, beefed up his fundraising and campaign operations to make a respectable, although losing, showing in the primary.

DeWitt also faces the challenge of convincing Republican voters that he is not just a Johnny-come-lately to their party. Cecil County primaries are notorious for low voter turnout and it is usually the most loyal party members who show up at the polls in the primaries.

Republican registration in Cecil County is on the rise, and new figures from the State Board of Elections show the traditional Democratic voter majority in the county is diminishing.

As of Dec. 31, 2010, active Democratic voters numbered 24,580 while Republican registration was 23,040—a gap of 1,140 voters. In contrast, on Dec. 31, 2009, the tally was 24,095 Democrats and 21,944 Republicans—a difference of 2,151 voters.

DeWitt said he would focus his campaign on “being part of the community” and reaching out to citizens regardless of political affiliation. He commended Janney for his recent meeting with residents of Crystal Beach Manor after a recent murder and reports of break-ins in the area. But, he added, “I would have done it sooner… I’m not going to just be there after the fact.”

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