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UNF poll: St. Johns County sheriff’s race shaping up to be close

Poll also found a large majority approves of the job being done by the St. Johns County Commission.

St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Rob Hardwick (left) and retired law enforcement officer Chris Strickland are running to become the next St. Johns County Sheriff in 2020.
St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Rob Hardwick (left) and retired law enforcement officer Chris Strickland are running to become the next St. Johns County Sheriff in 2020. (News4Jax)

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The race to replace departing St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar will be tight, according to a poll released Monday by the University of North Florida.

It will likely be a two-candidate race between Chris Strickland and Rob Hardwick, according to the poll from the UNF Public Opinion Research Lab.

The poll found that Hardwick has a slim lead at 13% with Strickland at 12%. Keith Perniciaro, who is also running, has almost no support for the Aug. 18 primary. All three candidates are running as Republicans.

The poll did find that 75% of the 299 potential voters asked still do not know which candidate they like best.

“At this stage of the Sheriff’s race polling is based on name recognition, and the two leading candidates both need to do some more work in that department,” said Dr. Michael Binder, director of the Public Opinion Research Lab.

Hardwick currently serves as the St. Augustine Beach Chief of Police while Strickland is a law enforcement veteran with 30 years of experience working with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

Shoar has served as St. Johns County Sheriff since he was first elected in 2004.

The poll also found that 69% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat approve — with only 19% disapproving — of the job being done by the St. Johns County Commission. Three commissioners — Henry Dean, Paul Waldron and Jimmy Johns — are all seeking reelection this year.

Currently, Waldron has no opposition. Dean has just one opponent in Merrill Roland. Johns has two opponents: Republican Christian Whitehurst and Democrat Joe McAnarney, neither of whom has reported any campaign contributions at this point.

“There is undoubtedly a general lack of awareness regarding the candidates for St. Johns County Commissioner and Sheriff, but it’s still early,” said Binder. “The election isn’t until August, and candidates have plenty of time to get their names out.”

When asked what the most important issue facing St. Johns County is, keeping taxes low led the way with 27%, followed by keeping schools top-rated and limiting development, with 22% and 21%, respectively. Another 19% stated that roads and traffic were the most important issue facing the area.

For more details about the methodology of the survey, visit the Recent Polls section of the PORL website.