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2 veteran lawmen in runoff for Hall County sheriff
Jeff Strickland, Couch top tight race in 5-man field
Hall County Sheriff candidate Jeff Strickland, left, watches primary results Tuesday as they are posted with Chris England during Strickland’s election party at Curt’s Cafeteria in Oakwood.

We the People voting info, election results

Statewide results from Ga. Secretary of State Elections website

Hall County Sheriff

√ Gerald Couch 31.3%
John Hewett 4.2%
John Sisk 2.4%
√ Jeff Strickland 33.4%
Jon P. Strickland 28.8%

What’s next: Jeff Strickland and Couch meet in Aug. 21 runoff. Winner faces no Democratic foe in November.

Gerald Couch
Age: 49
Occupation: Retired lieutenant from Hall County Sheriff’s Office, 30 years, last in charge of major violent crimes for the investigations division; most recently spent eight months as assistant chief of police at the rank of major for Gainesville Police Department
Education: North Hall High School, 1980; Northeast Georgia Police Academy, 1982; 3,000 hours of advanced law enforcement training
Political experience: None
Family: Wife Sharon of 17 years
District history: Lifelong resident of Hall County; member of Gainesville Kiwanis Club; serves on Board of Directors Rape Response; immediate past president of executive board of directors for Rape Response

Jeff Strickland
Age: 47
Occupation: Retired colonel and chief deputy from Hall County Sheriff’s Office, 28 years
Education: Gainesville High School, 1983; Northeast Georgia Police Academy, 1984
Political experience: None
Family: Wife Linda of 17 years; two daughters, Jennifer and Notchea
District history: Lifelong resident of Hall County; member of Georgia Sheriff’s Association and National Sheriff’s Association; attends both Lakewood and Chicopee Baptist churches

Two veterans of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office have another three weeks left to campaign for a chance to succeed Steve Cronic as the next leader of the agency.

While former chief deputy Jeff Strickland received the most votes Tuesday, his support from 33.35 percent of Hall Republican voters was nowhere near the majority he needed to win outright.

He will face former colleague Gerald Couch in the Aug. 21 primary runoff. Tuesday, he promised to work harder than he had in the last six months to be the county’s next sheriff.

Couch, who spent 30 years with the sheriff’s office before leaving in 2011 to become Gainesville’s assistant chief of police, followed close behind Strickland with 31.33 percent of the votes cast, a margin of just 509 votes.

The race stayed close until the final votes were counted. Couch described watching the returns as a “roller-coaster ride.”

“It was an interesting evening, especially for me being new to politics,” Couch said. “I just feel very confident that we reached a great many people.”

Jon P. Strickland reached nearly as many people. He nabbed nearly 29 percent of the vote, but fell 651 votes short of the runoff.

The veteran of the Georgia State Patrol would not say Tuesday whether he planned to endorse one of the two candidates left in the race or if he’d try his hand at politics again.

He said that he felt “pretty good” about his performance at the polls, which was about 25 percentage points above other two candidates in the race.

Chuck Hewett and John Sisk received 4.21 percent and 2.36 percent of the vote, respectively.

Jeff Strickland and Couch will have to spend the next three weeks encouraging voters to return to the polls in three weeks.

Strickland spent his entire 28-year career with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. He attributed his success Tuesday to his experience in law enforcement and his approach to his campaign.

“We’ve run a very clean race,” he said. “We’re going to go all out for the next three weeks. I'm going to energize my supporters and we’re going to work just as hard and harder than we have for the last six months to try to be sheriff.”

As the race narrows to two men, Strickland, who was the agency’s highest ranking officer when he retired in October, said he will focus on what sets him apart from Couch, who led the agency’s criminal investigations division.

“I worked in a higher level than he did,” Strickland said. “I was in charge of an entire department with over 450 employees and a $29 million budget.”

Couch, too, said he will focus on his qualifications versus Strickland’s.

“I’ve worked in every single area of the sheriff’s office,” Couch said. “I think I have a huge advantage in that area.”