IOWA CITY – Although the election focus Tuesday was in Cedar Rapids with the casino vote, the biggest long shot to pay off came to the south in Johnson County.
John Etheredge will become the first Republican to serve on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors since 1962 after defeating Democrat Terry Dahms for an open seat on the five-member board.
The 28-year-old Etheredge overcame 51 years of history, the two-to-one voter registration advantage Democrats hold over Republicans in the county and seemingly the longest odds this side of a roulette wheel.
He said he knew going into the campaign that “this mountain that we had to climb was vertical.”
“It’s just a great, great day for me and for representation,” said Etheredge, who works in retail and lives in rural Kalona. “We worked our tails off, offering people rides to take them to their polling place, making calls.”
Etheredge took 51 percent of the vote to Dahms’ 49 percent and won by 128 votes out of 6,097 cast, according to preliminary results from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office.
Results are unofficial until the canvass of votes March 11. County Auditor Travis Weipert said 11 absentee ballots not yet returned.
Dahms said he would not seek a recount.
Dahms and Etheredge squared off to fill the spot left open when Supervisor Sally Stutsman resigned at the start of the year after being elected to the Iowa Legislature.
Etheredge could be sworn in immediately after the canvass, although that is to be determined. He will serve the remainder Stutsman’s term, which runs through 2014.
Turnout was just 6.65 percent. That compares with 11.02 percent for the last supervisors special election, in January 2010. The Democrat, Janelle Rettig, won that election with 58 percent of the vote versus a Republican and an independent.
To put Etheredge’s victory into perspective, consider that Republicans did not even have a nominee for a Board of Supervisors general or special election after the 1986 election until 2000. The last Republican on the board was in 1962. The last Republican elected official in any county-level office was Sheriff Gary Hughes in 1988 (he chose not to seek re-election).
Etheredge also is four decades younger than Dahms and much less experienced in politics. Both previously ran for supervisor and lost, but Dahms is currently chairman of the Johnson County Democrats and serves on county commissions.
Dahms was at a loss to explain Tuesday’s outcome, saying voter apathy and the weather didn’t help.
“I don’t know how you do explain it,” said Dahms, 67, who lives north of Iowa City. “We had a candidate who was an independent in November, now he’s the star of the Republican Party, and we lose. … I think the Republican Party did a good job of getting out the vote, and in contrast, the Johnson County Democrats did not do as good a job.”
He added that he wished Etheredge the best on the board.
Though both live in unincorporated parts of the county, Etheredge cast himself as the more rural of the two. He also said he’d take a hard look at county spending, including for the proposed criminal justice center, and taxes.
While Etheredge could not say how effective he’ll be as the lone Republican on the board, he said he’ll work with the four Democrats to ensure the people of Johnson County are heard.
“I ran on one thing, and that was, I will be your voice,” he said. “I will work extremely hard to make sure your voice is heard.