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Voters Elect Johnston And Thayer; Gregoire And Obama Win Statewide

Results come into focus

Election season 2008 is finally over. The attack ads are gone from the airwaves and almost all of the political yard signs have been removed.

By now, virtually all of the ballots postmarked by Nov. 6 have arrived at the Klickitat County Auditor's Office, and the results have come into focus.

In short, virtually all the Republican Party candidates won by relatively large margins at the local and district level, while the Democratic Party candidates fared very well at the state and national level.

Two Republican incumbents -- Rex Johnston and Ray Thayer -- won handily in their contests for seats on the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners.

Johnston, who was appointed to the position and began serving as commissioner in January, won with 53.9 percent of the vote, adding that he was glad the campaign was over.

"I'm just relieved," Johnston said. "We worked really hard and put in a lot of time and effort. It's nice to have those efforts rewarded."

Johnston said he was gratified he was able to survive in a year when the Republican Party seemed to be in disarray at the national level.

"This election in particular, with the Obama tide, I think that's what's pretty amazing," Johnston said. "I got a lot of crossover votes, that's a humbling feeling. I'm very thankful to all who helped us and voted for us."

Johnston, who supported John McCain for president, said he was not shocked to see Barack Obama win the presidency.

"Obama was leading in every poll, and Republicans were not that enthusiastic about McCain," Johnston explained. "That carried over nationally."

Johnston said it was time for everyone to put political divisions aside.

"I promise to do the best job I can for both sides -- those who voted for me and those who didn't," he said, adding that he believed that was essential at the national level too.

"Everybody should fall in line and support Obama," Johnston said. "He's our president now. I hope he'll do as good a job as everybody thinks he can."

White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said he was a big supporter of Johnston, and was gratified that he won a full four-year term as commissioner.

"I'm tickled to death with Rex getting back in there," Poucher said. "He's been a big supporter for the city of White Salmon and it's good for White Salmon that he's elected. He's going to continue to help the city."

Johnston's opponent, Democrat Lea Rachford, said she had no regrets.

"We gave it a good run and did our best. Obviously it's difficult to elect a Democrat in Klickitat County," Rachford said. "Overall the experience was fantastic. I loved it and I feel enriched and smarter."

Rachford said she wasn't sure whether she would run for public office again.

"It's hard to say what life will be like in four years, but that possibility is open," she said.

Rachford added that as a Democrat, the results in the presidential race and the governor's race took some of the sting away from her own defeat.

"I was very very happy for that; happy and relieved. That softened the blow," Rachford explained.

Two other Republican incumbents -- State Reps. Bruce Chandler and Dan Newhouse -- won big as they kept their 15th Legislative District seats. Chandler captured almost 62 percent of the vote, while Newhouse had about 63 percent.

Statewide, it was more of a mixed bag: Republicans easily held on to the Secretary of State's office and the Attorney General's office, with winning margins of 58.2 percent and 59.7 percent respectively.

However, incumbent Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire topped her challenger, Dino Rossi, by a 53.2 percent-46.8 percent margin. As of Nov. 10, Gregoire -- who eked out a mere 133-vote win over Rossi in 2004 after several recounts -- had a lead of about 172,000 votes.

After this year's results were clear, Gregoire said her main focus would be on healing the economy.

"Times are tough right now, and our top concern is the economy," she said. "We made a choice between two very different economic plans. We stood by our values and chose to put working families first. I want to thank all of you who gave your time and energy to this campaign."

On Nov. 5, Rossi called to congratulate Gov. Gregoire on her re-election victory.

"Our state faces some difficult times ahead and I wish Christine Gregoire the best of luck in seeing Washington state through these challenges," Rossi said. "Gov. Gregoire made an iron-clad promise that in this term in office the citizens will not see any taxes or fees increased. It is fair and right for voters to hold her to this pledge."

Rossi said he was gratified that he ran far stronger than the Republican Party's presidential candidates did.

"In 2004 we ran 7.5 points ahead of President Bush," he explained. "So far, we are running 10 points ahead of John McCain. That is an accomplishment in itself. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. After a long and grueling year on the campaign trail, I look forward to spending time at home with my family."

One surprise was in the Commissioner of Public Lands race, where incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland appears to have lost his re-election bid to Democrat Peter Goldmark. As of Nov. 10, Goldmark was leading by more than 17,000 votes, or by a margin of 50.4 percent to 49.7 percent over Sutherland.

On the national level, Democrats won the presidency for the first time in eight years as the Barack Obama/Joe Biden ticket bested the John McCain/Sarah Palin team by a substantial margin nationally as well as in the state of Washington.

As of Nov. 10, Obama, now the president-elect, had a national lead of 53 percent to 46 percent in the popular vote, and a 364-173 margin in the electoral college. In Washington, Obama won with 57.5 percent of the statewide vote; McCain had 40.7 percent in figures updated Monday.

Obama appears to have won in Klickitat County as well, which indicates that the county is becoming a bellwether in predicting election results. Klickitat County supported Bill Clinton's winning efforts in 1992 and 1996, then supported George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. With Obama leading this year, this makes the fifth straight presidential election in which Klickitat County has gone with the national winner.

The last time the county backed a presidential candidate who did not win nationwide was in 1988, when Michael Dukakis carried the county.

Citizens on both sides of the outcome put this year's election results in perspective.

"Being a fourth-generation eastern Washington state Republican, I was disappointed but not surprised," said White Salmon resident Don Smith. "The polls were predicting an Obama win, and this was not a good year for the Republican Party. That apparently carried over to the governor's race as well. I was surprised Rossi didn't make a better showing, and if you look at the results by county, it was the I-5 corridor counties that carried Gregoire. Without exception, all the eastern Washington counties and some southwestern counties were solidly in the Rossi camp, which is historically what we see."

Smith also noted that Obama was leading -- albeit very narrowly -- in Klickitat County. In recent elections, the county has tended to vote heavily Republican. The Democratic Party's presidential candidate had not carried Klickitat County since Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole in 1996.

The latest figures, tallied Monday, showed Obama leading McCain in Klickitat County by 4,930 votes (48.8 percent) to 4,913 (48.7 percent).

"As far as Klickitat County is concerned, what I see is Obama ahead, not exactly a mandate, but again, what appears to be a carry-over from the national elections," Smith said. "The good news, however, is that our county and legislative races were solidly Republican in what is otherwise a bad Republican year, and I think this is a reflection of the quality of the Republican candidates in those races."

One local Democratic voter said she welcomed the fresh start the nation was entering into.

"I join millions of others in being thrilled to embrace the intelligence, compassion, and progressive ideas that Obama brings to the White House," said Leigh Hancock, a White Salmon resident.

Bob Hansen, a Lyle resident who serves as vice chair of the Klickitat County Democratic Party, said he was impressed with the county's high turnout -- 84.3 percent.

"I think we're seeing democracy play out in Klickitat County, and that's healthy," Hansen said. "There was a high percentage of voters, and that's what democracy is about. We got to see patriotism in action last Tuesday."

Trout Lake attorney Don Willner had a unique election day experience. He traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., to help monitor polling sites in the event of any irregularities, but no serious problems developed.

"Everything went very smoothly; there were only occasional minor problems," Willner explained. "Many of the Hispanic voters there were first-time voters, but the vote got in and the polls closed on time."

Willner said that because there had been so much concern expressed about voter fraud and voting machine glitches, he wanted to volunteer to "guard" a polling site.

"I donated my time, and paid my plane fare and hotel bills. I thought I was privileged to be involved in a state where I was needed," Willner explained.

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