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Wake Sheriff's Race Features Familiar Faces

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RALEIGH, N.C. — For the third straight election, Donnie Harrison and John Baker are facing off in the race for Wake County Sheriff.

This time, however, Harrison is the incumbent and Baker is the challenger.

Harrison, who worked in the state Highway Patrol for years before winning the 2002 election, said he's still more comfortable on the road than he is behind a podium or a desk.

"I'm out there with the deputies on a regular basis to see what they need and what's going on out there," he said.

After taking office four years ago, the Republican filled vacancies and re-structured the office, which has 775 employees and a $51 million annual budget.

"I think the morale is so much better. I think that by taking the men that we already had -- the men and women -- and realigning and readjusting and putting more men on the street, the citizens of this county, they respect the sheriff's office even more," he said.

Harrison beat Baker by fewer than than 2,200 votes in 2002. It's something Baker, a 24-year-veteran of the office and a former NFL football player, can't shake.

"That said to me that the citizens of Wake County were not dissatisfied with my administration," the Democrat said.

If he's re-elected, Baker said he would focus on fighting drugs and gangs.

"People are afraid, and I feel the top law enforcement officer needs to dispel those fears," he said.

Baker also said he would have handled a recent scandal involving three deputies accused of assaulting a man outside a Garner restaurant two months ago.

The deputies resigned, and the State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the case.

"No question, I would have fired those individuals right on the spot," Baker said.

But Harrison said he wanted to let the SBI examine the case before jumping to conclusions.

"I don't want to jump off the cuff and say, 'We're going to do this, we're going to do that.' I want to make sure I'm right when I do something," he said.

Baker's health also is an issue in the campaign.

"Knees, arms, those problems affect all former football players, whether it be professional or college or whatever it is," he said, adding that bad knees couldn't keep him from trying to win back the sheriff's office.

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