Primary runoff brings a few surprises

Even though it was only a primary, Tuesday's election held a few surprises.

While there were some expected results, like the passage of the Whidbey Island Hospital District's emergency medical services levy on a 77-percent 'yes' vote, and and strong showings by Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen and the leading Republican challenger, Norma Smith, some races had unexpected outcomes.

Write-in candidate Sharon Franzen picked up 14 percent of the vote in the race for Island County Clerk, which will get her name on the November ballot against opponent Jane Koetje.

At the same time, incumbent county commissioner Bill Thorn finished behind in his own district to Republican Bill Byrd, 1,668 to 2,458.

Though the tally has no bearing on the general election, losing favor in his own district, which includes Camano Island and a portion of North Whidbey, was surprising to Thorn, who is a Democrat.

"I was a bit mystified by the results," Thorn said Wednesday.

Byrd was as pleased with the primary as Thorn was confused by it.

"I felt really encouraged," he said Wednesday. "At least my message seems to be getting out there and resonating with a few folks."

In another race that was as much a beauty contest as that between Thorn and Byrd, another incumbent, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, wound up on the losing side. Banks, a Democrat polled slightly behind his challenger, state Rep. Kelly Barlean, R-Langley. By Friday, Barlean led the primary race 6147 to 5668, numbers that indicate the November balloting for the position could be close.

"We're definitely very happy," Barlean said Thursday. "I think the people have clearly stated they'd rather have a prosecutor being backed by the law enforcement community rather than a prosecutor who is being backed by a bunch of defense lawyers."

Banks also said he had a better showing than expected, since the primary drew a heavy Republican turnout. He said the numbers prove there are "plenty of Republicans that support me who realize this office should be decided on qualifications and performance."

In the formerly uncontested race for county clerk, the emergence of write-in candidate Sharon Franzen, a recent Democratic convert, has made a contest of it for incumbent clerk Jane Koetje. Franzen announced her candidacy last week, three weeks after being fired from her position as an Island County deputy clerk.

Franzen said the grass-roots support she's received encouraged her to get behind a write-in campaign.

"I was very pleased," she said Wednesday. "It was very encouraging."

Koetje, who is a Republican, said she's going to be campaigning more vigorously now that she has a challenger for her seat.

"I'm going to be doing everything that I can do to maintain my seat and maintain the office in the positive direction it's been going," she said Friday.

As for the controversy surrounding her firing of Franzen and the subsequent write-in campaign, Koetje denies that her decision was politically motivated.

In other races, Republicans had to choose between their own.

With the help of voters, Republican treasurer Maxine Sauter defeated Republican challenger Marty Matthews, though only by a slim margin. The count in that race as of Friday was 4,270 to 3,833.

Sauter still faces a strong challenge in November from democrat and current Oak Harbor schools administrator Linda Riffe, who garnered 4098 votes in the primary.

Sauter, who was first elected to her position in 1986, said Wednesday she wasn't surprised to have taken the primary.

"I've been here a long time and my name probably has a lot of recognition," she said. "I feel pretty confident."

In a three-way Republican race for U.S. House, Clinton's Norma Smith had a big edge in Island County and a smaller advantage district wide over Friday Harbor's Herb Meyer. On Friday, she was ahead 4,195-1,320 in Island County and by 3,067 votes for the district. Third place in the race went to Warren Hanson with 5,991 votes.

Democrat Rick Larsen, the incumbent, tallied more votes than the three Republicans together, totalling 41,923 in the 2nd Congressional District.

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