By BRIAN WALKER
COEUR d'ALENE — Even a well-known challenger didn't come close to winning Tuesday.
Republicans in Kootenai County and state legislative races continued their stronghold on those positions, including the county clerk race, which didn't include a Democrat on the ballot.
Incumbent Jim Brannon soundly defeated Coeur d'Alene City Council Member Dan Gookin, who ran unaffiliated, with 68.4 percent of the votes.
"I ran a fact-based campaign," said Brannon, referring to what he believed made the biggest difference. "I think people in our country, state and county are tired of all the negativity, so that's why I ran a positive campaign. I took the high road and emphasized to voters my record of cutting the budget in the Clerk Division."
Gookin said he knew about three weeks ago that the race was going to be a "blowout."
"When a voter turnout is that huge (73 percent) here, it's Republicans who are voting," Gookin said. "There is not a hidden cache of Democrats here."
Gookin said he figured from the outset he'd face an uphill battle in GOP-dominated Kootenai County.
"When I first probed this, I asked wise people, and they said, 'Dan, the only chance you have is running as a Republican,' but I refused to abide by that," he said. "The power of the 'R' here is tremendous. In this state, the wave is red. I'm a fiscal conservative, but I'm also a social liberal who believes in rights for gay people and that's a bad fit (for the Republican Party).
"I don't regret not running as a Republican. The local (Republican) party is not only a big tent, but it's a circus tent and I can't be a part of that."
Brannon said he had a feeling he'd prevail because he believes he showed integrity during the campaign, emphasizing that his department's budget is down 14.5 percent over the past four years due to efficient operations such as a paperless court system and online registrations and maximizing technology.
"Leveraging technology has allowed us to not add staff with the growth of the county," he said. "I believe the best thing that aided my campaign was the fact that I know my job and I have time to do it. I thought the best thing that helped me was telling folks what I can do and what I have done."
Brannon said he'll continue to push for a more efficient department during the next four years. Online poll worker training is one such avenue he would like to pursue.
"It's how we can help keep our personnel costs down," he said.
Gookin said he ran to "clean up the mess" in the department. He believes improvements can be made with transparency, communication with other elected officials, and treating employees better.
Gookin added that he believes there has been "constant overspending" at the county.
"The budget overruns have to stop," he said.
Gookin said he doesn't plan to run for the position again and won't seek re-election to the Coeur d'Alene City Council in two years, either.
"I believe in term limits," he said.
He said he has no regrets about running for the county position.
"I've learned a lot, gotten tremendous feedback and I still have a great job and a great life," said Gookin, who is a writer and offers online technology courses. "Since I won't have to cut back on my job, I'll make a ton more money next year."
Brannon said he's most looking forward to continuing to work with the public and his staff.
"I love my team," he said. "Everyone there works hard for the citizens of this county. They take pride in their work. It is my pleasure to work with them."