COEUR d'ALENE - After the election smoke cleared Wednesday, it became obvious that political action committees had a definite influence on the outcome of the city elections.
Two PACs in particular played major roles in both Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls.
The Reagan Republican Victory Fund, which is an extension of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans membership organization, backed a slate of candidates in both cities.
Balance North Idaho, a PAC that was formed earlier this year to field qualified candidates for nonpartisan elections regardless of political affiliation, also put up a slate of candidates in both races.
In the end, the BNI candidates outpaced RR candidates and swept all of the seats in both cities, leaving most of the unendorsed candidates in the dust.
There was an exception in the Post Falls City Council race, with incumbent Betty Anne Henderson winning her seat after renouncing a Reagan Republican endorsement. Neither of her opponents were endorsed either.
Henderson said on election night that she turned the endorsement down because the city council races are supposed to be nonpartisan and she wanted to honor that.
Another notable race result was Kerri Thoreson's loss to Mayor-elect Ron Jacobson. Thoreson had significant name recognition going into the race, but lost momentum as the campaign played out.
She said Wednesday that she had trouble overcoming the "community cheerleader" label her opponent successfully used against her. Outgoing Mayor Clay Larkin's endorsement of her opponent also worked against her, she said, adding that having the Reagan Republican endorsement probably had an effect on her bid for mayor as well.
"In light of what went on in Coeur d'Alene, I would say that there was probably some seepage into the Post Falls races," she said, adding there was probably some collateral damage. "By the same token, I think Ron probably benefited from the Balance North Idaho endorsement."
In hindsight, Thoreson said her preference would be that neither PAC participate in the local races because once they do, the race is elevated to a higher level of partisan politics.
"Take Balance North Idaho," she said. "They can call it what they will, but they are a political action committee."
Thoreson said she isn't trying to blame her loss on any one factor, but when the PACs entered the race in Post Falls this year it became more partisan than any other campaign she has run.
Ron Lahr, RR board member and president of the Strategery Group, agreed that the city races were definitely hard-fought this year.
"That is very impressive what they (BNI) did," Lahr said on Wednesday. "They deserve kudos and I congratulate them on a record-setting campaign."
The Strategery Group ran a majority of the campaigns for the Reagan Republican candidates. Lahr said it is too soon to tell if the strategy they used was flawed, because BNI drove an unexpected increase of 2,000 voters to the polls and he has yet to see who those voters were.
"It's hard to make any judgments until we see who voted," he said. "They got an additional 2,000 voters, and that gave them the massive victory."
Lahr said Strategery used a strategy to drive the partisan voters - who usually don't vote in the nonpartisan races - to the polls and that appeared to work.
"Two years ago these same numbers gave (Coeur d'Alene City Councilman) Steve Adams a 23-point victory," he said. "But that wasn't enough to overcome an additional 2,000 voters."
Lahr said he will be interested to see who voted, once that information is tabulated and released to the public.
Eden Irgens, president of BNI and co-owner of Range NW, said their strategy was all about voter turnout.
"We knew what we had to do and we did it," she said. "We had people on the ground for weeks, and I know one person alone that knocked on 600 doors."
Range NW ran most of the campaigns for the BNI slate of candidates. She said the group wanted to maintain a positive campaign and get people who ordinarily wouldn't vote to the polls.
"I think we accomplished that," she said, adding BNI will now have to sit out the upcoming primary election season because they are partisan races and BNI's mission is to focus on nonpartisan races.
"That makes me really nervous," she said. "North Idaho PAC (otherwise known as 'Reasonable Republicans') will hopefully get involved. I know they are Republicans too, but at least they are different group of Republicans."