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Rogers' big win in GOP sheriff primary was a surprise to many

Perhaps it was knocking on doors. Maybe it was sitting down with voters one-on-one. It might have been his comfort in showing his Christian faith. While others wonder about Tuesday's outcome, Brad Rogers has no doubt old-fashioned politicking, shaking hands and kissing babies brought him success on his first trip to the ballot box.

Posted on May 6, 2010 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 6, 2010 at 6:11 p.m.

ELKHART -- Perhaps it was knocking on doors. Maybe it was sitting down with voters one-on-one. It might have been his comfort in showing his Christian faith.

While others wonder about Tuesday's outcome, Brad Rogers has no doubt old-fashioned politicking, shaking hands and kissing babies brought him success on his first trip to the ballot box. He was elected the Republican nominee for Elkhart County Sheriff by a margin of 886 votes.

Rogers said his goal was to be efficient. He knocked only on homes that housed registered Republican voters with a voting history -- found through a voter database. His supporters held about 20 meet-and-greet coffee dates with small groups of people who didn't know him but were prone to go to the polls.

"I believe that was very helpful," he said Wednesday of the small gatherings. "We did all the parades and I think it's important for name recognition and to see the candidate out working, but to actually meet people face to face, let them see your heart, your passion, that is a good thing and that spreads out from there."

He has 23 of years of experience at the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department and is now corrections commander in the county jail.

Rogers' faith was on display during the election, but he maintains it was not a political maneuver to garner votes. In fact, it may have turned people against him.

"That's just who I am and that's just what I would do," he said.

Still, he acknowledged his belief in the Bible and upholding biblical principles in his life did attract some voters.

"It certainly wasn't just aiming at Christians," he said. "It was aimed at conservatives and trying to get the conservative vote."

The conservative message from Rogers found a constituency in the local tea party, according to an activist in the movement.

"He's one of us and we're very happy for him and proud of him," said Peter Recchio, a member of We the People/The Michiana 9-12 Project, a conservative, Elkhart County-based group.

Rogers, a Michiana 9-12 member, was a fairly regular participant at the organization's meetings and Recchio claims that without the backing of group participants, the sheriff's hopeful wouldn't have won. Michiana 9-12 -- associated with the broader national tea party movement -- boasts the support of some 2,000 families and Recchio said participants "became comfortable with (Rogers), his conservative, Christian values."

Bob Moore, a member of the Elkhart County Patriots, another conservative group here, backed Jeff Troxel. At any rate, he noted Troxel and Rogers "stood out" in terms of their association with the Christian evangelical movement. Moreover, Rogers was the only candidate to knock on the door of his home looking for support, the sort of grassroots effort that the Republican victor cited.

"It didn't change my vote, but it made a big difference in how I felt about him," Moore said.

Dale Stickel, chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Party, said he was surprised Rogers' grassroots effort worked.

"I thought, well, that doesn't mean a lot necessarily that early on. I thought maybe it would fade away. Obviously, it just built momentum."

Stickel was expecting Rogers to finish among the top three vote getters, but the margin still surprised him. Having so many candidates might have split the natural bases of certain candidates, Stickel said, but not by much.

"If it's down to a couple percent difference, then that's a detriment," he said. "When the margin is as much as it was, I'm not sure that affected the final outcome too much."

The outcome of the race wasn't ideal for candidate Bill Wargo.

"Obviously I'm disappointed," he said. "But on the other hand I wish him the best. It's a huge job and he's going to need everybody's support."

Wargo said he will continue to be a liaison for local law enforcement agencies and a resource for law enforcement.

"I'm going to continue doing what I do for the prosecutor's office and we're moving forward."

Candidate Julie Dijkstra couldn't be reached for comment.

Waiting for Rogers in November will be Larry Owens, the Democratic candidate for sheriff. Owens is gearing up his campaign in the aftermath of the May primary but not without acknowledging some surprises. The biggest surprise coming out of the primary, Owens said, was the poor voter turnout.

"It means I've got a lot of work to do and so does every other candidate," he said.

Owens said he was also surprised that Rogers won the Republican nomination, considering he thought there were "stronger candidates."

"The people who voted wanted him, and I'm anxious to face him in the general election," he said.

Looking forward, Owens rejected a general notion that the Republican candidate most likely will be the next sheriff.

"I don't believe that," he said. "I'm going to be in there, fighting in November."

Truth reporters Emily Monacelli, Josh Weinhold, Tim Vandenack and Amelia Jeffirs contributed to this report.


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