There is little doubt Republicans Chris Blair and Dan Kuhn are favorites to become Marion County’ next sheriff.

There is little doubt Republicans Chris Blair and Dan Kuhn are favorites to become Marion County’ next sheriff.

Combined, according to elections reports current as of March 31, they have amassed $270,000 in campaign contributions, which puts them on a record pace, and claimed 1,650 individual donations. (Although a few of those are from repeat contributors.)

But it’s possible either Blair, who retired as head of the agency’s major crimes unit, or Kuhn, the second-in-command at the Sheriff’s Office, could be the community’s chief law enforcement officer with more than half the county’s voters sitting on the sidelines.

That’s because a minor-party candidate awaits one of them in November.

Under Florida law, partisan primaries — such as the Republican Party contest featuring Blair and Kuhn — are open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, if that party is the only one to put candidates on the ballot.

But last October, roughly six months after Blair and Kuhn announced, Bernie DeCastro, chairman of the Constitution Party of Florida, threw his hat in the ring.

So come Aug. 14, only GOP voters will cast ballots for either Blair or Kuhn.

As of Friday, Marion County had 91,739 registered Republicans, according to Elections Supervisor Dee Brown’s office. But that is only 43 percent of the total electorate within the county.

Brown’s office reports that there are 81,050 registered Democrats and 42,641 voters who are registered without party affiliation or who belong to minor parties.

As it stands, unless they join the Republicans by the registration deadline on July 16, their only choice will be DeCastro.

DeCastro is a candidate with a compelling message.

Once sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for his role in a drug-related armed robbery, DeCastro was paroled in 1984 and pardoned by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1994.

Behind bars, DeCastro found Christianity and used his faith to launch a nonprofit work-release ministry.

DeCastro has said he intends to call attention to his reformation and the lawbreaker-turned-lawman theme in his campaign.

DeCastro is also appealing to the anti-Washington sentiments held by many local voters by emphasizing his party’s platform of strict adherence to the Constitution and his endorsement by Richard Mack, a former Arizona county sheriff who is popular among limited-government advocates.

Yet DeCastro faces an uphill climb.

For one thing, he has raised just $5,021.

Moreover, according to a recent report from Brown’s office, Blair and Kuhn have already gathered enough petitions to qualify for the ballot.

DeCastro has been collecting signatures for five months and has only about one-third of the 2,145 needed to qualify.

He must get the rest before June 8, or face paying a fee of about $8,400.

Finally, there is the challenge of not being a major-party candidate.

Since 2007, a handful of candidates from Marion County have run for state or county office as minor-party candidates, without any party affiliation, or as write-ins.

Owen Hayden, a 2010 County Commission candidate who claimed no party affiliation, was the only one to get into double digits in the percentage of the votes.

Hayden received 10.5 percent.

On occasion, rank-and-file party activists around the state have used the loophole in Florida’s election law to purposefully close primaries to voters outside their party.

It’s happened twice recently in Marion County.

In 2007, GOP activist Nancy Stacy filed as a write-in to preclude Democrats from voting in the Republican special primary for state House District 24.

In 2008, GOP committeeman Tony Tortora filed as a write-in to close the GOP primary in County Commission District 5.

Contact Bill Thompson at