& & by Pia K. Hansen & amp; Ted S. McGregor, Jr. & & & &

When the votes started coming in from the primary election on Tuesday night, the conventional wisdom that surrounded the strong mayor election for the past week went out the window. Political newcomer John Powers grabbed the lead with the absentee votes and held onto it throughout the night, finishing with more than 40 percent of the vote out of a four-man field.

In the last week, many people started to believe that the finalists would be incumbent mayor John Talbott and state Sen. Jim West, perhaps in part due to a Spokesman-Review poll that came out just before the primary. The problem was that the poll included all registered city voters, while fewer than 40 percent of those included in the poll actually voted.

At Powers' campaign headquarters, after the final tally was in, some campaign volunteers were saying that poll provided a little kick in the butt that ensured they would continue to push hard until election day.

"John made a decision in the last couple of weeks to step up and aggressively state his position," said Bill Etter, a Powers supporter.

Powers, hoarse from a long night, addressed his volunteers: "This isn't my campaign," he bellowed, "it's yours. If we stick together these next seven weeks, we'll do it."

Later, Powers said the key to his surprising margin of victory -- he outdistanced Mayor Talbott by nine percentage points -- is that the voters are hungry for his message of inclusion. "This city is yearning for healthier relationships. Ours have not been healthy."

Powers also said voters responded favorably to his approach to settling the River Park Square issue, which he says should be handled through mediation -- a position Talbott took up later.

While Talbott had dinner out and then stayed home and away from the media on election eve, West called Powers and Talbott to congratulate them.

"We worked hard to win, and of course you are disappointed if you don't win," said West, adding that a few legislators in Olympia with advancement on their minds may have been even more disappointed. While West has not endorsed either candidate, he did say that Powers usurped some of his issues as the campaign wore on. But he's happy to return to his work in Olympia, which some local Republicans may have wanted him to stick with.

"I have a great interest in Spokane politics, I've always had that, and I'm going to hold whoever wins the strong mayor position very accountable," West continued. "If they stray from their promises, I'm going to remind them that they are straying.

"There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed," West concluded. "Spokane has so much potential, it's just a matter of getting the city out of the doldrums."

Longshot challenger Robert Kroboth was so disgusted by the tally that he said he would be leaving Spokane. "No matter who wins, it's just going to be more of the same old thing," he said. "I don't like any of them, that's why I got into this race in the first place."

Although Powers had an impressive showing, his 40 percent won't be enough to get him over the top come November. Both he and Talbott will spend the coming weeks trying to woo West's supporters to come to their camp.

Over in the race for Congress, Tom Keefe overcame a late entry into the race and the fact that he is new to the district to earn the chance to face George Nethercutt, who is thought by some to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation. Keefe's legislative experience as an aide to Warren Magnuson and Brock Adams perhaps was the difference as he easily outdistanced Tom Flynn, who ran a scrappy campaign. And Keefe may give Republicans a choice, as he is against dam breaching and has even publicly defended Slade Gorton.

Nethercutt will need to defend his flank, as better than 20 percent of the voters went for Richard Clear.

"This is just great," said Keefe on election eve, "I mean, when a sitting entrenched incumbent spends half a million to only get 45 percent of the vote [Nethercutt actually got closer to 42 percent], that shows you people are looking for change. And that's all we wanted to hear today.

"Now, I want to sit down with Tom Flynn and reach out to his voters. We need to talk about the issues and our common goals in November."

While Nethercutt should be able to put a lot of money into his reelection bid, Keefe may find himself the recipient of his national party's largesse. If the Democrats think the seat is in play, they will go after it hard, as it could be a key in winning back the House of Representatives. But Keefe says he knows it takes more than money to convince the tough voters of the 5th district.

"I did well in all the counties," he said. "I think especially those rural areas really listened to me, and they know I've lived out there with them. Nethercutt just sits on that agricultural committee, but he has no clue about the pain the farmers feel or how they got hit by that Freedom to Farm bill. I'm going to give farmers and the rural communities a voice."

In the county commissioners' races, both incumbents -- John Roskelley and Kate McCaslin -- earned the most votes. The insurgent campaign of Sylvia Riddle that caused some controversy came up short, leading Roskelley to comment that, "The sex offenders thing just didn't work. That was just a bunch of smoke and mirrors."

Roskelley, who will face Karl Wilkinson in the general election, said the people in the county approve of the job he and the other two commissioners have been doing. "We've brought dignity back to the county commissioners, and I think people appreciate that."

Roskelley also says the people in the county appreciate his style of politics and his approach to growth. "Even the other candidates' issues of jobs and bringing in new businesses, that relates directly to the quality of life. If you look at places that are succeeding, like Boulder and Bozeman, quality of life is the key issue."

But Roskelley knows he will have a tougher race when the entire county votes for him or Wilkinson, and he hopes he can get out from behind the shadow of the strong mayor race, and the issues that were raised by Riddle, to communicate the issues he cares about with voters.

Sandpoint 4th of July Celebration @ Downtown Sandpoint

Mon., July 4, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
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