Bristol County Sheriff candidates brace for a close election

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Incumbent Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson meets with a supporter in Somerset and rallies support for the upcoming election. Staff Photo/Adam Bass
Coin show Sunday November 20th at 9:00 AM 52 Bulfinch street
Paul Heroux, Attleboro mayor and Democratic Candidate for Bristol County Sheriff, rallies with voters at Battleship Cove in Fall River. Staff Photo/Adam Bass

By Adam Bass-abass@northstarreporter.com

The midterm elections are a day away, with the race for Bristol County Sheriff one of the most competitive races in Massachusetts.

Incumbent Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson (R) and challenger Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux (D), both say this race is coming down to the wire.

Hodgson, who met supporters in Somerset on Nov. 4, expressed confidence in his campaign but acknowledged this election could be the closest one during his 25 years as sheriff.

“You know I always run as if I am 10 points behind,” Hodgson said. “I feel pretty good about this race though. We’re going to have to get everyone to vote.”

Heroux, who attended a “Get Out The Vote” canvas with voters at Battleship Cove in Fall River on Nov. 5, said his goal was to inform people of the race. He said some voters did not pay attention to the sheriff’s race as it is a lower down-ballot election compared to the governor or a state senator.

“When we were in Taunton, some of the voters were indifferent to the campaign,” Heroux said. “When I went to Fall River, there were voters who were not at home when I knocked on doors. So, there are obstacles, but I do think we are running a good campaign despite these challenges.”

A challenging race

The constant rallies, relentless door knocking, and a never-ending deluge of physical and digital advertisements are all part of the tense atmosphere surrounding a race for who will be in charge of Bristol County’s jail system for the next six years.

Hodgson, originally a city councilor in New Bedford, was nominated to serve as sheriff in 1997 by former Republican Gov. William Weld. Throughout his tenure and this year’s campaign, the sheriff has defined his role as one of law enforcement—and criticized Heroux for not serving in a police department and just recently, not having a registered firearm.

“My opponent doesn’t know what he is talking about,” Hodgson said. “People are going to realize that they don’t want Bristol County to turn into the next New York or Chicago and they want someone with law enforcement.”

Heroux, on the other hand, believes the role of sheriff is one of management. Throughout the campaign, Heroux has touted his work in the Philadelphia correctional system and his role in updating the Attleboro Police Department budget as evidence that qualifies him for the position.  He also has called for the Bristol County Jail system’s modernization and has blasted Hodgson’s management on the recent suicide of inmate Adam Howe in New Bedford’s Ash Street Jail.

“We have the highest rate of suicide in the state,” Heroux said. “We can’t fix that unless the chief administrator says it can get better.”

Both candidates are also attacking each other in advertisements.  Hodgson, who has had a consistent advantage over Heroux in fundraising and spending, accused his opponent of allowing dark money Political Action Committees (PACS) from New York City to place digital ads in this race.

The PACs in question are the Working Families Party and a Gun Safety Group known as Everytown. The two groups have poured over $200,000 into ads that label Hodgson as an extremist—tying him to Former President Donald Trump and the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“My opponent is being funded by dark money groups,” Hodgson said. “The voters of Bristol County won’t be fooled.”

Hodgson, meanwhile, has come under fire for his advertisement. The ad says Hodgson will be tough on crime and Heroux will defund the police as he is backed by groups supported by Hungarian-born American businessman George Soros.

Democratic Senators Edward Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, former Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, and Heroux himself said Hodgson was using anti-Semitic tropes for this advertisement. The Anti-Defamation League writes the use of Mr. Soros is viewed as a symbol of Jewish individuals controlling the world and media.

“Taking a swipe at someone and saying that they had George Soros as a backer is right-wing hate group code for rich Jews,” Heroux said. “The antisemitism that we are seeing in contemporary political discourse is alarming.”

Despite the attacks on advertisements, the focus of this race appears to center around Hodgson himself and his record.

Many supporters of Heroux said this was the first time they thought a Democrat was going to take on Hodgson, despite the sheriff facing a Democratic opponent in 1998, 2004, and 2010.

Steve Oliveira, who lives in Swansea, said this was the first year he was ever interested in a down-ballot race, and said Hodgson has stayed in office for too long.

“Hodgson has been there for 25 years,” said Oliveira. “Power plus time equals corruption.”

Hodgson supporters say they like the job the current sheriff is doing and say Heroux is nothing more than a paper pusher.

A Hodgson supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, said he doesn’t care about Hodgson’s record and that because he has been in office for so long, he is like a part of Bristol County.

“I just like him,” he said. “He’s done a good job.”

Hodgson’s incumbency, name recognition, and fundraising have been helpful in his past races–winning in areas Democrats do well on the top of the ballot such as Fall River and Taunton.

Heroux, however, is making this race competitive through the aforementioned outside advertisements and receiving the full backing of the Democratic Party’s candidates such as candidate for governor Maura Healey and Attorney General Candidate Andrea Campbell.

Heroux has also been making an effort to win those areas Hodgson has won in the past. He has put radio advertisements on WSAR in Fall River and on two Portuguese stations to win over the Portuguese voting bloc—a critical group of voters in the city and in New Bedford.

The two are also expected to win towns that either party would not have been able to carry 12 years ago due to educational polarization.

In towns like North Attleborough, where many voters have a college degree or higher, Heroux is expected to do well. In towns such as Acushnet, where a majority of voters have a high school degree or lower, Hodgson is expected to win.

Armin Thomas, a political analyst from the website Split Ticket, said he expects Hodgson to be the favorite but a Heroux win would not be surprising.

“Hodgson has a lot of advantages, but so does Heroux,” Thomas said during a radio program on WBSM-FM. “I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them won.”