Judging by the relative closeness of the two races for seats on the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners, local voters may be in for some spirited competition this fall.
In both upcoming races, Republican incumbents are facing challenges from relative newcomers from the Democratic Party.
In District No. 1 -- which includes Bingen, White Salmon, Trout Lake, and Glenwood -- incumbent Rex Johnston of White Salmon had 883 votes in the Aug. 19 "top two" primary election. Johnston finished just 44 votes ahead of his challenger, Lea Rachford of Husum, who tallied 839 votes.
Rachford and Johnston will next face off against each other on the general election ballot.
Johnston, who served in the U.S. Air Force and owned and operated a number of businesses over the years, said he saw the primary election results as a good sign for the fall election.
"I thought she'd just eat me up down here. I was pleasantly surprised," Johnston said. "It's very encouraging for me."
District No. 1 has tended to vote a little more for Democratic Party candidates than the eastern precincts of the county, which have voted predominantly for Republican candidates in recent elections.
However, Johnston pointed out that he was taking nothing for granted.
"I've put up a lot of signs all around the county and getting geared up," he explained. "I've been making the rounds of picnics and fairs, and doing radio interviews. I'm keeping really busy. I've never worked so hard in my life."
Rachford said she believes the days of exclusive Republican Party domination of Klickitat County politics may be coming to an end.
"The tide is changing," she said. "People want change, and the things that affect our daily lives come from local government."
Rachford, a Husum resident who now serves as president of the Henkle Middle School PTO and previously worked as a business banker, said she is proud of her rural roots.
"I live in the country and have three horses," Rachford said. "I wear cowboy boots, and my husband and I are farming 20 acres of alfalfa."
Rachford added that she believes virtually all citizens share the same basic concerns, regardless of political or religious differences.
"Take away all the politics, and all of us are good people with the same interests," she explained. "If someone is stuck in a ditch, we don't ask if they are Republican or Democrat, we just help them out."
Johnston said he too wished people could get away from excessive partisanship.
"It's a shame people vote by Republican and Democrat, instead of by the person and the qualifications," he said.
The race was also close in Klickitat County Commission District No. 3 -- which covers most of Goldendale, Roosevelt, Bickleton, and the eastern part of the county.
In that contest, the longtime Republican incumbent, Ray Thayer of Goldendale, had 712 votes in the Aug. 19 primary. Thayer was 114 votes ahead of Democrat Jerry Gaines, who tallied 598 votes.
Thayer is seeking a fourth four-year term as a commissioner this year.
The outcome in the Thayer-Gaines primary balloting may be a bit misleading, however, as there was another Republican on the primary election ballot who won't be there for the November general election contest.
Republican Martin Taylor, who finished in third place and thus will not be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, pulled in 432 votes.
"It was kind of an interesting race with three people in there," Thayer said. "It all depends on where those [Martin's] voters go. I guess we'll find out during the general election."
Thayer added that he was pleased with his showing in the primary.
"Of course, I'm happy I had the most votes," Thayer said.
Gaines said he too was optimistic after his relatively strong showing.
"I feel pretty good about it, especially going against the man who has been the incumbent for the past 12 years," Gaines said. "I'm the new boy, and very few in Goldendale really knew me."
Until recently, Gaines and his wife owned Bickleton's Bluebird Inn.
"This is my first time in politics, but the county has been good to us, so I wanted to give back to it," Gaines said. "I really want to contribute. I love it here, and love the people."
Gaines, who was born and raised in Camas, said he had been a blue-collar worker all his life. He worked at Crown-Zellerbach in Camas and in Wauna, Ore., and also for Con-Agra in Kalama.
Thayer said he hopes voters judge him on his record.
"I like to think we've done a pretty good job for the county," Thayer said. "We're in good financial shape, and have a lot of funds in reserve. Most counties are scrambling right now, but we're very fortunate in this county."
Gaines added that he wasn't worried his relative lack of name recognition would hurt his chances in November.
"They will know who I am by election time," he said.
A "candidates' night" forum where all four of the County Commission candidates are expected to attend has been scheduled for Sept. 22 at the Lyle Lions Club/Community Center. The event will begin at 6 p.m.
A candidates' night event is also planned for White Salmon, but no dates have yet been finalized yet.
Rex F. Johnston (Republican Party): Klickitat County: 883 votes, 51.28%
Lea Rachford (Democratic Party): Klickitat County: 839 votes, 48.72%
Ray Thayer (Republican Party): Klickitat County: 712 votes, 40.87%
Jerry L. Gaines (Democratic Party): Klickitat County: 598 votes, 34.33%
Martin Taylor (Republican Party): Klickitat County: 432 votes, 24.80%