CLEARWATER, Florida - The room filled with raucous applause as the tally of absentee ballots was announced at Bascom's Chop House in Clearwater, the site of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's victory party during the Republican primary.
In this race, it boiled down to sheriff versus sheriff, the present versus the past, Bob Gualtieri versus Everett Rice.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri saw big competition during the arduous 15 months of campaigning for office. He was appointed Sheriff in November 2011 after then-Sheriff Jim Coats retired to care for his ailing wife.
Former Sheriff Coats attended Gualtieri's party. With a big grin he told 10 News, "[Gualtieri] is the man for the job. I'm excited for him."
Sheriff Gualtieri won the primary Tuesday night and was thrilled about it, although he displayed cautious optimism. At the end of the night after taking pictures with supporters, he seemed to relax while surrounded by family.
"Of course I'm excited. It's the past versus the future. This is a job I take seriously," said Gualtieri.
Gualtieri admitted that between he and his opponent, Everett Rice, the two men easily spent more than $700,000.
Rice's campaign party was held at the Treasure Island Yacht Club Tuesday night and was filled with supporters and volunteers, many of them deputies. Rice quickly gave his concession speech after the absentee ballot results were released. He approached the podium with a solemn face and told the crowd, "We're going to lose tonight."
He went on to thank his supporters profusely, adding that it was a "hard race."
10 News was the only station to be there as Rice delivered his concession speech and talked with us exclusively, saying, "This was a wonderful experience. It was never about the money or even needing a job. I had people begging me to come back."
We asked him if he would consider leaving the Republican party and possibly running as an Independent. He smiled and said, "No. That's not going to happen."
Gualtieri says there's no time to rest as the general election approaches in November. "It's going to be busy. The RNC is coming up. We have to get to work. Plus, there's other voters out there we need to reach," said Gualtieri. "I wish Everett the best, but the voters spoke."