DALTON, Ga. — Since 1992, Sheriff Scott Chitwood, a Democrat, has held the sheriff’s office here.
Now, two Republicans are fighting for the chance to take on Sheriff Chitwood in the general election Nov. 4.
Claude Nix and Paul Tipton, both now working in the private sector, are vying for the Republican nomination and will face off in the July 15 party primary. Mr. Chitwood is unopposed in the primary.
Both Republican candidates say that gangs and drugs have transformed a formerly tranquil community into a place that’s less safe than it used to be.
“I’ve talked to some elderly people who had tears in their eyes telling me horror stories of things that have gone on in their own neighborhood,” Mr. Tipton said.
The incumbent sheriff defends his performance.
“I’m very proud of our record and our department,” Sheriff Chitwood said, adding it will be “interesting to see what those guys say.”
The Republican candidates highlight different professional strengths: Mr. Tipton — who has been a state delegate for the Republican Party — speaks of his connections to political leaders; Mr. Nix underlines his connections to multiple law enforcement agencies.
Both men have experience in law enforcement. Mr. Tipton spent six years with the Dalton Police Department and now works at a staffing agency. Mr. Nix has worked for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Department, and now owns a private investigation firm.
Dr. James Zuppa, a supporter of Mr. Nix, said his candidate’s contacts with the GBI will help solve serious crime problems here in Whitfield County. “We can’t wall ourselves off. I think Claude understands that,” Dr. Zuppa said.
Not to mention, Dr. Zuppa added, “He’ll be the first to tell you he is not a politician.”
But the sheriff needs an outgoing personality, said Mickey Atkinson, a supporter of Mr. Tipton. “Mr. Nix is sort of a quiet person ... doesn’t like to be in a limelight. But, when you’re running for sheriff’s office, the sheriff is always in the limelight.”
Mr. Atkinson described his candidate as somebody who “will get the people energized again.”
Back in 2004, Mr. Tipton first tried to take on Mr. Chitwood, but only won about 9,000 votes to the incumbent’s nearly 12,000. One might wonder why it’s so difficult for a Republican to beat Mr. Chitwood in conservative Whitfield.
Political science professor Ken Ellinger explained that Democrats are often able to hold the office of sheriff because it’s “easily the most non-political” office.
Dr. Ellinger added, “When you think about it, isn’t it just the height of silliness to have a party label on sheriff? ... Most are going to say that the party label means nothing when it comes to the sheriff’s office.”