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O'Neill ekes out narrow win; McComas, Connolly score big

One incumbent out, one incumbent survives

One incumbent out and one narrow survivor. That appears to be the essence of last week's primary election in Klickitat County on the Republican Party side.

The big winner on Sept. 19 was Rick McComas, a Goldendale resident with close to three decades of law enforcement experience.

McComas' challenge of incumbent Sheriff Chris Mace, who has served as head of the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office for the past five years, paid off in a big way. McComas carried just over 66 percent of the vote in the Republican Party primary.

In the Republican contest to decide who will serve as the county's Prosecuting Attorney, incumbent Tim O'Neill appeared to survive a very tough challenge from political newcomer Julie Vance, who has served as the city of Goldendale's Prosecuting Attorney since 1998.

Updated vote totals show O'Neill with a 58-vote lead out of 3,050 ballots cast in the race. O'Neill had 1,554 votes for a percentage of 50.92 percent against Vance's 1,496 votes for 49.02 percent.

On the Democratic Party side, in the key contested race in the county's Sept. 19 primary, Chris Connolly won the right to a second try for the County Commissioner seat in District 2. Connolly beat Marc Harvey by a 64 percent-36 percent margin.

Sheriff-elect McComas said he was gratified with the results.

"I'm really overwhelmed with the number of votes I received and the public support," McComas said. "I believe the citizens felt they wanted to see a change. Now I get to do the planning and work with people to show them what I talked about is what I intend to do."

McComas pledged to increase the number of deputies on patrol, and made clear that no KCSO employee would be exempt from answering calls for help.

"The administrators have to understand, they'll have to take some calls at times," McComas said. "They are not going to be strictly office people. It's going to take all of us."

McComas said he hoped to talk with Sheriff Mace once the election results are certified.

"I intend to," McComas said. "I want to give him time to get settled with what has occurred, and wait for certification," McComas explained. "I know in 1998 when I ran for Sheriff and lost by about 50 votes, it was pretty depressing."

McComas added that he anticipated a smooth transition between the outgoing Mace team and his administration.

"I certainly want it to be. I'll extend my hand for a handshake, and hope we can work together," McComas said.

Mace said the election results did not shock him.

"It's not a real surprise," Mace said. "I'm kind of considered a bit of an outsider; I've only been in the area about seven years. But I thought it was going to be close."

Mace handled his election defeat with a positive approach, and said he would look for another position in law enforcement elsewhere.

"I have 27 years of experience, and there are certainly opportunities out there. Life does go on. It's a job, it's not losing your best friend," Mace said. "I wish Rick the best of luck. Things happen for a reason. I have to look at it as an opportunity. Hopefully, it'll be a community my wife Julie and I have enjoyed living in as much as the Bingen-White Salmon area."

Mace added that he had one strong regret.

"I'm going to miss the staff," he said. "I got a chance to work with some great people here."

In the Prosecuting Attorney contest, O'Neill expressed relief and the wish to get back to business.

"I'm glad the race is over," O'Neill said. "The surprise to me is that the race was as contentious as it was, more contentious than the one four years ago against Gwendolyn Grundei. I feel better now that we can get back more into working and less into campaigning, and get back to the business of working for the public."

O'Neill pledged he would have more interaction with public and the city councils during his next term.

"I look forward to the next four years," O'Neill said. "I want to thank the voters of Klickitat County for giving me the opportunity to further serve them in the next four years."

Neither McComas nor O'Neill will face a general election opponent.

That is not the case in the County Commissioner race, however. With Connolly's primary win, she will now have to gear up to go against Republican David Sauter in November.

Recent history is not on Connolly's side: In 2002, Connolly ran against then-incumbent Joan Frey and carried only 36 percent of the countywide vote.

In what is generally considered as a strongly Republican county, the primary vote totals suggest that Connolly could have a difficult time attracting enough voters to win the County Commission seat.

Of the total votes cast on Sept. 19, there were 3,249 Republican ballots cast and 1,291 Democratic ballots. That works out to be a Republican percentage of roughly 72 percent as opposed to the Democratic voters' 28 percent, although the heightened interest in the Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney races probably inflated the Republican turnout to some extent.

Perhaps more telling, in the primary, Sauter had 870 votes, while Connolly and Harvey combined had only 488.

However, Connolly pointed out that the numbers in the primary don't necessarily translate into an automatic victory for Sauter.

"Those numbers mean I'll have to work very hard. There are a lot of Republicans who vote Republican no matter what," Connolly said. "As far as November, it's hard to tell."

Connolly added that she believes it's important to have a change in November.

"I hope the large number of Republican voters doesn't mean we'll continue to be governed by one party in Klickitat County. One-party rule can prove disastrous, as I think we're seeing on the national level," Connolly explained.

The turnout in the primary in Klickitat County was at 41.79 percent.


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