Retired Orlando Police Chief John Mina has won a surprisingly close race Tuesday to be elected Orange County Sheriff, in an election result that no doubt sent shivers through both the Democratic and Republican parties.

With just a few precincts out, Mina was leading with 46 percent of the vote, while Democratic nominee Darryl Sheppard finished second with 41 percent and retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Jose “Joe Lopez, 14 percent.

The shivers come because Sheppard was the Democratic nominee that neither the Democratic establishment nor the Republican establishment wanted. With no law enforcement background, except for a lengthy arrest record, Sheppard ran a campaign full of false claims, leading his own party to disavow him, urging Democrats to not vote for him.

But in a county dominated by a Democratic voter base, he nearly pulled off an upset against two career law enforcement leaders.

Both Mina and Lopez changed their status last year from Republican to Democrat in anticipation of their runs, but both did so too late to qualify for the ballot as Democrats. So both ran as independents.

Mina, who retired two weeks ago as the city’s top cop, becomes the county’s top cop in early December when Sheriff Jerry Demings moves over to become Orange County Mayor and Mina gets sworn in to replace him. He gets less than two months of retirement before he succeeds his longtime friend and colleague, Demings.

Mina was the establishment choice throughout the 22-month sheriff’s race, though he had two challengers in the oddly-partisan election.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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