Andy Shock’s supporters shifted into a higher gear on election day to help him buck the odds and secure the Republican nomination for Faulkner County sheriff without a runoff.
Shock trailed his nearest competitor, Tim Ryals, by several
hundred votes early Tuesday night when early voting and absentee ballots were counted in the preferential primary election. Shock more than made up the difference at the polls, where voters provided him with a nearly 1,000-vote advantage when precinct results were tabulated.
Ryals, whom numerous observers thought would force Shock into a runoff, won only four of the 47 precincts. Shock won the remainder.
Ryals, 49, of Conway has spent the past 22 years with the Arkansas State Police. His wife, Wendy, also works for the agency.
Unofficial results, which county officials amended early Wednesday, give Shock 4,425 votes (54 percent), followed by Ryals with 2,759 (33.5 percent), Max Young with 876 (10.5 percent) and H. Allen Smith with 146 (2 percent). The county Election Commission is scheduled to certify all of the primary results on Tuesday afternoon.
"I’m looking forward to breaking down the voting numbers," Shock said Wednesday. "I haven’t had a chance to do that."
Revised figures also show that turnout for the primary was slightly better than 15 percent, which was initially reported. Officials said Wednesday that turnout was 18.3 percent, with 11,402 people casting ballots.
Shock, 38, of Conway is attempting to succeed his boss, Sheriff Karl Byrd. Shock is an enforcement major with the sheriff’s office and was endorsed in his primary bid by Byrd, a Democrat who chose not to seek a fourth term.
Byrd said Wednesday that voters "made a very wise choice" by supporting Shock.
"If Andy is elected in November, he’d be an excellent sheriff for years to come," Byrd added. "He truly cares about the people of this county and has their best interest at heart."
Shock took a leave of absence from his job weeks ago to focus on his campaign.
"I’m not sure yet when I’ll return to work," he said. "My wife and I will sit down and discuss that. I’m the boss, you know, as long as she says it’s OK!"
Shock and his wife, Kim, have been married 18 years and have two children.
Earlier this year, as the campaign started gathering steam, Shock’s political efforts survived an ill-fated sabotage attempt. Fraudulent documents were circulated claiming that Shock fathered a child in Texas and failed to pay child support. The case remains under investigation by federal officials.
Longtime acquaintance Tommy Earnhart will be Shock’s fall foe. Earnhart, 59, of Conway did not attract a Democratic opponent in the primary.
Both candidates are political novices.
"Tommy has been a colleague of mine since I started. We have backed each other up on many calls over the years," Shock said. "We have a good working relationship and a mutual respect."
Shock and Earnhart talked on the phone as recently as Wednesday morning.
"We discussed our campaigns," Shock said, "and we both agreed that we look forward to running a gentleman’s race."
"That mud-slinging stuff doesn’t do anybody any good," Earnhart said. "Just work hard, do the best you can and see what happens."
Earnhart, a retired Arkansas Highway Police sergeant, said he isn’t surprised that Shock avoided a runoff.
"That race went just about like I had it pegged," Earnhart said. "Now, several weeks ago I was thinking runoff. But as I started talking to people and the race got closer, I decided it wasn’t going to be as close as people were thinking."
Shock said Tuesday night that he knew he was "on the edge" between a victory and a runoff campaign. He said his political advisors thought Shock would collect between 48 percent and 54 percent of the votes.
"I said all along that it doesn’t matter to me who I run against," Earnhart said. "I’m not uncomfortable running against Andy, but I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable running against any of the other three.
It is unusual for any candidate to avoid a runoff in a four-person race, so it may well be true that Shock’s victory is historic. He said he overheard an election official say Tuesday night that he could not recall any local candidate escaping the way Shock did.