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Commissioners survive close primary challenges
Fremont County Commissioner Dennis Christensen, right, spoke with House District 24 candidate Lois Herbst Tuesday night at The Ranger. Christensen won a narrow victory in his primary, while Herbst was defeated in hers. Photo by Steve Peck

Commissioners survive close primary challenges

Aug 22, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Both Doug Thompson and Dennis Christensen won Tuesday by about 1 percentage point.

Fremont County Commission incumbents Doug Thompson and Dennis Christensen won their Republican Party nominations by slim margins -- roughly 1 percentage point each -- in Tuesday's primary election.

According to unofficial results with all precincts and absentee ballots counted, Thompson earned 504 votes, or about 38 percent, in the District 5 race, compared to closest challenger Jennifer McCarty with 485 votes, or roughly 37 percent.

In the commission's District 2 race, Christensen had 541 votes, or 31 percent, while challenger Larry Allen had 521 votes, or nearly 30 percent.

Earning his second consecutive term on the board, Christensen said he watched race results until the last precincts reported.

"We followed it all the way through. In fact, we were about to leave until the last precinct came in. Thank goodness for that," Christensen said.

"I'm really happy with the supporters I had and the people that came through. I'm really happy. It was a good campaign with excellent candidates," he said. "It was a very close race."

At Thompson's home on Tuesday night, his wife, Cindy, said the commission chairman was out on a cattle roundup.

"He hasn't even called me to see what the results were," she said, adding she dialed his cell phone earlier in the night. "I tried to call him on it, but he didn't get it."

In an interview Wednesday morning, Doug Thompson acknowledged his win "wasn't a resounding defeat."

"I'm pleased to be the winner. I really commend Jenny. She did a great job. Both she and Red (Fyler) had a positive campaign," he said.

"I expected a really close race partly because both she and Red, they were out there all the time, campaigning about every day, had signs everywhere," he said.

Don't expect to see Thompson seek another term if re-elected in November. "If that federal planning had been in place and going, I probably wouldn't have run," he said about the resource management plan revision with the Bureau of Land Management.

"If I'm successful this November, this will be my last term. I won't run again," Thompson said.

In the commission District 4 race, incumbent Pat Hickerson was uncontested in the Republican primary, but many voters chose to support a candidate who had withdrawn.

Hickerson received 746 votes, or roughly 52 percent, while ex-candidate Debbie Scheler got 540 votes, or about 37 percent. Although Scheler quit the race early on, her name still appeared on ballots.

Hickerson had been elected to his third consecutive term on the board at the special commission election in January 2011, but population shifts with revised district boundaries resulted in his seat being put on the ballot this year for an unexpired two-year term.

The District 2 and 5 seats are four-year terms. All three candidates advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Hickerson's race so far appears to be the only contested commission race in the general election with independent candidate Stephanie Kessler running against him. Write-in votes could result in a Democratic Party candidate emerging in the races.

The narrow margins between the top two candidates in each contested primary race should send a message to the incumbents, some of the challengers said.

"This tells them, the incumbents, people are fed up and angry," McCarty said at the county courthouse in Lander.

"So what he says he's going to do, he better do it," she said about Thompson's campaign goals for his fourth consecutive term on the board.

Despite McCarty's loss, she said she still felt victorious.

"I have to thank all the voters and all the people," she said. "It is a victory. I can't lose with that vote."

Republican challenger Richard Denke in the District 2 race said the voters clearly spoke.

"I think that shows the people are a little bit ticked off," he said.

The Ocean Lake area farmer earned 147 votes, or about 8 percent, while Tim Salazar of Dubois had 481 votes, or about 28 percent, in the race.

Denke said the number of candidates in the race may have worked against the challengers.

"I wasn't paying attention to the other races, but the District 2 race I felt early on there might be a few too many of us," he said. "I feel that we split the vote."

The incumbents need to pay closer attention to their constituents, he said.

"I think they probably ought to wake up and get out and visit their people a little bit more," Denke said. "I think we sent a very strong message, and I just hope that it's heeded."

In the District 5 race, Fyler, the other Republican challenger, commented on the close outcome.

"I was surprised on that, but if you add Jennifer's and mine up, Doug wouldn't have got it," Fyler said.

Fyler received 278 votes, or about 21 percent.

"I really appreciate all the people that voted for me," he said.

Thompson said he expects action on the issues affecting the public. "I think the issues are pretty clear. This solid waste thing is going to have to be resolved," he said. "That's kind of the top priority for me right now."

Salazar and Allen could not be reached for comment.

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