In a race that was tight all night long, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson is headed toward a runoff against Bill Waybourn.
Anderson, 59, of Kennedale has been sheriff since 2001 and was facing a strong challenge from Waybourn, the former Dalworthington Gardens police chief.
With all precincts reporting, Anderson had 83,400 votes (48.59 percent) to Waybourn’s 69,801 votes (40.71 percent) in complete but unofficial returns.
Texas primary election results
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With neither candidate getting more than 50 percent of the vote, Anderson and Waybourn will square off in a May 24 runoff.
With no Democrat running, the winner of the GOP primary will be the next sheriff.
“It's just a process of keeping people enthused and getting the vote out,” Anderson said early Wednesday morning. “I’m still beating him by about 13,000 votes. I think that speaks volumes with the amount of money he spent.”
At his watch party in Pantego, Waybourn greeted supporters and expressed optimism.
His spokesman, David McClelland, said they feel they have an advantage in the runoff.
“I think we’ve got the momentum and we got people willing to get out and vote,” McClelland said. “We’ve already started campaigning.”
A third candidate, John Garris, who dropped out of the race and threw his support to Waybourn, had 18,426 votes (10.74 percent.)
During the campaign, Anderson has touted his drama-free tenure as sheriff.
The Tarrant County Jail has passed 15 consecutive annual inspections. Rather than being out in the public, Anderson has said his time has been spent overseeing more than 1,600 employees and managing an annual budget of $120 million.
Waybourn, 56, who retired last September as police chief of Dalworthington Gardens after 31 years, said Anderson has been too distant with rank-and-file staff.
Waybourn said his raising more campaign dollars and receiving numerous endorsements, including from former Gov. Rick Perry, two former Fort Worth police chiefs, the Tarrant County Law Enforcement Association, the Fort Worth Police Officers Association and the Arlington Police Association, were signs of Anderson being out of touch.
He also said the sheriff needs to be taking a lead role in coordinating with Tarrant County police departments on issues like terrorism and drug enforcement.
“If he was out there in the community, I wouldn’t have the endorsements I have,” Waybourn said earlier in the campaign.
Waybourn’s time as police chief came under scrutiny during the campaign when the Star-Telegram reported last month about a 2013 accidental shooting at a Tarrant County gun range.
In the June 2013, Waybourn injured his hand while teaching a concealed handgun license class to an Arlington doctor.
Dalworthington Gardens’ city attorney determined he was on the job when the shooting occurred and was qualified for workers’ compensation.
The city attorney said there was an understanding between the City Council and Waybourn that allowed him to teach CHL classes. Waybourn had said the allegation came from Anderson’s camp, which the sheriff denied.
Anderson, who had endorsements from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and District Attorney Sharen Wilson, has also disputed Waybourn’s assertion that he was isolated, saying he was accessible to police chiefs throughout Tarrant County.
“He thinks being out in the community and being out of the office every day is the way to go,” Anderson said earlier in the campaign. “He has no idea about the demands of a $120 million operation and managing 1,600 people. He’s never managed a department anywhere near the size of this office.”
Anderson has been accused of grandstanding for being out in front of the cameras during the Ethan Couch case. The attorney for Ethan Couch’s mother, Tonya Couch, had criticized Anderson’s high profile during her return to Fort Worth.
Couch, 18, and his mother fled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in December after he skipped a meeting with his probation officer. He’s serving 10 years of probation for killing four people in a 2013 DWI wreck.
“Ethan Couch represents the worst case I’ve had in the 15 years as sheriff,” Anderson said during the WFAA debate last month. “I’m going to be upfront, very vocal. I’m speaking for those families and those four victims.”
Waybourn has said he is most proud of pioneering DWI no-refusals in Dalworthington Gardens since 2005, where court orders for blood draws are obtained for suspected drunken drivers if they refuse a Breathalyzer.