Retired undersheriff Adam Shepherd’s smashing victory in the race to replace retiring Sheriff John Armer revealed the depth of north-south differences among Gila County voters.
Running as a Republican, Shepherd wracked up such big margins in north-county precincts that he handily defeated former deputy Darrell Stubbs, who won most of the precincts in the south and Tonto Basin.
Both candidates campaigned aggressively in both the north and south, but Shepherd came out on top, capturing 3,671 votes, 60 percent of those from Payson/Star Valley residents. Stubbs got 2,107 votes, only 42 percent of those from Payson.
In all, Stubbs carried 16 precincts out of 39, all south of Payson. Where Shepherd had supporters, however, they came out in force.
Interestingly enough, on the Democratic ticket, the county was finally unanimous, with Craig Jones winning every single precinct in his battle against Ray Van Buskirk.
Both Jones and Shepherd said they were surprised by their wide winning margins.
Neither said they went into Tuesday night totally confident. Even after the first reported votes put Shepherd ahead, he remained at the county offices in Payson for an election night vote-watching vigil.
After only a few hours of sleep, Shepherd said Wednesday morning he was running on adrenaline.
“We never treated it like we had it in the bag and we couldn’t,” he said.
Shepherd and Stubbs both ran competitive campaigns, attending local mixers and posting campaign signs anywhere they could.
Stubbs worked especially hard to get his face and voice in front of the voters. Four years ago, Stubbs ran and lost against incumbent Armer. Shepherd said the voters looked beyond all “that stuff” and picked the candidate with the most experience and qualifications for the job.
“Which is the platform we ran on,” he said.
Before running for office, Shepherd was the GCSO’s undersheriff, working his way up the ranks in a career that spanned 30 years with the office.
Stubbs also worked several decades with the office, but never rose up in the ranks beyond deputy.
Some say Stubbs’ aggressive campaigning style mirrored how he worked as a deputy. This in-your-face style didn’t always sit well with Stubbs’ superiors. Records show he was written up several times for rude behavior.
Still, Shepherd said he knew Stubbs was a strong candidate and expected a tight race.
“I had thought it would be a little closer,” he said.
Deborah Hughes, who ran and won for Republican assessor in the primary, said she watched Stubbs and Shepherd on the campaign trail and was impressed by their tenacity.
Hughes said she was surprised the race was not more closely contested.
On the Democratic ticket, Jones said he was also surprised that he got two-thirds of the votes, but was humbled voters believed in him so strongly.
“I think the votes showed that people believe I was the best person and I feel that I am,” he said. “I know I have a lot of hard work up to November to show my sincerity and my truth and honesty.”
Shepherd said he planned to take a few days off before hitting the campaign trail again.
“We are certainly grateful for all the support we got during the campaign and for those that came out on our behalf,” he said.
Requests for comment from Van Buskirk and Stubbs were not returned as of press time.