For the first time since 1958, a Republican was elected to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. John Etheredge, 28, defeated Democrat Terry Dahms in a special election to claim the seat in Iowa’s most liberal county. Etheredge eked out a 192-vote victory over Dahms, with 6,090 people voting.
John Etheredge might have gotten an assist from a winter storm that dropped 4-5 inches of snow on the county and likely depressed voter turnout. However, he says most of the credit for the upset victory goes to the Johnson County Republicans, who engaged in good, hard grassroots organizing.
“All the hard work put in by everyone who was a part of my campaign and obviously to the people who went out and voted deserve the credit,” Etheredge told TheIowaRepublican.com. “All the hard work that we put on, phone calls, offering people rides to their local polling place, mailings, so many things.”
Johnson County GOP Chair Deborah Thornton made this race the top priority for the central committee when she was elected last month.
“Lots and lots and lots of hard work by a very dedicated core group of volunteers,” Thornton said. “30 people making phone calls, getting up barn signs, doing the Get Out the Vote, doing the mailings. We had a very focused effort by a great group of people and a great candidate. John did a great job.”
Democrat Terry Dahms had several advantages heading into the race. He was the chairman of the Johnson County Democratic Party. There are more than twice as many registered Democrats compared to Republicans in Johnson County, 39,664-18,817. They even outnumber independents by almost 7,000.
Dahms also had the endorsements of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the Iowa City Federation of Labor and help from Congressman Dave Loebsack. Despite all their advantages, the Johnson County Democrats came up short in this special election because were simply outworked by the Republicans, who made sure voters turned out despite the wintery weather.
“We called all day,” Chairwoman Thornton said. “We just begged people to come out even in the snow, and they did. I personally drove six voters to the polls today.”
While Republican activists were turning out the vote, John Etheredge went right into the heart of liberalism–The University of Iowa-to pick up some last minute support.
“Today my wife and I and my campaign manager (Deb Derksen) went down to the University of Iowa, handing out fliers and asking people to go vote today,” Etheredge said. “We handed out several hundred today. There were several people there were not even aware there was an election today. I got a number of votes from people who had not voted before.”
Along with becoming the first Republican elected to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in 55 years, Etheridge is also the first Republican to win a county-wide office there since 1984, when Sheriff Gary Hughes was reelected.
“By voting for John Etheredge tonight, voters in Johnson County sent a message that they are tired of a one-party philosophy of government in our county,” said Republican activist Karen Fesler. “Johnson County has a lot of issues: a new justice center, debate over the paratransit system, and the second highest property tax rate in the state. Voters saw in John Etheredge a new leader with a different perspective on these issues.”
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