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posted: 2/4/2010 12:01 AM

McHenry County challengers harness anti-incumbent mood

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In 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama's name was on the ballot, many political watchers dubbed the anti-incumbent mood that resonated down to the local level the "Obama effect."

This year, election observers might want to rename the phenomenon the "Scott Brown effect," after the senator-elect who pulled off a surprise victory to win the Massachusetts seat held for decades by Ted Kennedy.

Brown's win has been hailed as a victory for voters upset with government spending and a continued shortage of jobs.

In Tuesday's Republican primary for the McHenry County Board, some fresh faces appeared to capitalize on the same sentiments that propelled Brown into the U.S. Senate.

Three candidates new to the county board earned Republican nominations on Tuesday: Robert Nowak in District 1, Donna Kurtz in District 2 and Diane Evertsen in District 6.

At the same time, three incumbents were denied a chance to compete in November's general election: Yvonne Barnes in District 1, Lyn Orphal in District 2 and Dan Ryan in District 6.

Kurtz said she was inspired by Brown's Senate victory and believes the anti-incumbency mood on display in Massachusetts was a factor in her success Tuesday.

She described the Brown effect as "people having a feeling that they don't have any sort of input or control - I do feel that is real in this campaign."

"I thought a lot about how he appealed to voters all over Massachusetts because he wasn't the insider," Kurtz said. "I like to think of myself as the people's choice."

Evertsen didn't say voters were dissatisfied with incumbents, but that they chose candidates who focused on local issues.

"I think one of the big issues is they like the open spaces," Evertsen said. "They're people who love the land. They like District 6 being rural rather than overdeveloped, and they want to maintain that here."

But Evertsen may have also benefited from an issue that resonates nationally - illegal immigration. Evertsen is the president of the Minutemen Midwest, a local group that, among other issues, focuses on immigration enforcement.

Orphal and Ryan agreed that anti-incumbent sentiment probably played a role in their defeats but said other factors were at play.

Ryan, a one-term incumbent from Huntley, said a lower-than-expected turnout in the McHenry County portion of Sun City likely hurt his cause, as did his refusal to participate in an advocacy group's survey asking candidates to disclose their property holdings.

The survey - issued by the Alliance for Land, Agriculture and Water, a group particularly influential in Ryan's district - received responses from all but six GOP board candidates. Ryan and Barnes were among those who did not respond.

"It infringed on individual privacy too much," Ryan said Wednesday.

Asked if he regrets not replying to the survey, Ryan said, "Absolutely not. I don't care if it cost me my office. I have principles."

For Orphal, money was a major factor. A board member for 11 years, Orphal said she spent about $2,000 on her re-election campaign. Fellow District 2 incumbent Ken Koehler spent $9,270 just by Dec. 31, according to state records. The district's other winner, Kurtz, had spent $2,867 as of Dec. 31 and infused her campaign with $5,250 less than a week before the election, state records show.

"I probably was just outspent," Orphal, of Crystal Lake, said. "I guess it was time for me to move on. I can't see spending that much money. I don't feel bad about it."

But voters were not dissatisfied with all incumbents, nominating Koehler in District 2, Anna May Miller in District 1, Barb Wheeler in District 3, Tina Hill in District 5 and Mary McCann in District 6.

McCann took her success as vindication of the job she has done.

"I think my record speaks for itself," McCann said. "I tried to be a good county board member - and I think people appreciate that and remember that."

In a twist, voters nominated John Jung in District 5 and Nick Provenzano in District 3, two former board members who lost their seats to Democrats in 2008 - when the "Obama effect" may have been a factor.

In explaining his primary victory, Provenzano echoed Scott Brown's theme of fiscal conservatism, saying, "It was important to voters to find someone to cut spending and lower taxes."

But Provenzano and his fellow Republican nominees aren't taking anything for granted in November, when many of them will face challenges from Democrats and in some cases third-party candidates.

"We need to hit the precincts and get the message out to voters," Provenzano said.