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After close race, Kit Johnston overtook Beth Wytoski for Position 1 on the commission

After a long neck-and-neck race, farmer Kit Johnston prevailed over opponent Dayton Mayor Beth Wytoski for county commissioner Position 1 in the Nov. 8 election.

Johnston and Wytoski first faced each other in the May primary alongside Henry Noah and Bob Luoto. Although Johnston and Wytoski both surpassed Noah and Luoto, with Johnston boasting a small lead, neither secured more than 50% of the vote and had to compete in a runoff election.

As of 2:15 p.m. Friday, Johnston had received 51.31% of the votes, versus Wytoski's 48.38, with over half of the ballots counted. JohnstonWytoski

Despite the gap between him and Wytoski, Johnston was hesitant to declare a victory.

"It's definitely been exciting seeing the initial results," he said in an email. "As of right now, though, there are still many ballots to be counted, so I think it would be premature to assume anything concrete yet."

Wytoski concurred, notifying the media that as of Friday she had not conceded.

"If this does turn out to be a win, I think it (my victory) can be contributed to having lots of solid endorsements across the county and having a large amount of support from the agricultural community…," Johnston, who has worked in the agricultural industry for 28 years, said.

He added he made himself readily available to answer questions and listen to concerns, even listing his phone number in the voter's pamphlet. Johnston also relied heavily on his family, friends and volunteers to help him get his name out there, which included running ads in local newspapers, canvassing door-to-door, making phone calls and sending out mailers, emails and text messages.

He described the social media presence of the campaign as "somewhat lighthearted" and "family-oriented," a brand his wife and daughter helped foster through the art, design and graphics they made for his campaign.

"I am not a politician and campaigning is like nothing I've ever done before in my life, but your support, words of encouragement and belief in me this past year made all the difference," Johnston told his supporters.

Despite Johnston's apparent win, Wytoski implied in an email interview that she wouldn't have done anything differently.

"We put everything we had into this campaign," she said via email, emphasizing her "clean, grassroot efforts" that "crossed political, personal, and regional lines."

Like Johnston, Wytoski ran ads, knocked on doors, made calls and sent out text messages, put up signs, attended community events and more.

"My husband managed my finances and I ran my campaign while working full-time, serving as mayor and raising my three children," she said. "We worked hard! … We stayed positive. We followed the rules. We focused on my experience, plans and the potential of the county. We built new friendships with folks from around the community."

However, Wytoski acknowledged that the campaign trail had turned nasty.

"The race for county commissioner should be focused on plans for the county to provide for public safety and services, improve facilities and public spaces, and carry out transparent processes," she said. "Unfortunately, this race brought character assassinations, misleading claims and extreme partisanship."

Wytoski said these tactics brought the race's focus away from "working to improve life in this county" to "writing angry letters to the state and pushing down on cities," hurting everyone in the process.

Despite the hardships, Wytoski expressed gratitude for everyone who supported her run.

"I am so grateful and so thankful for the many volunteers who worked tirelessly right up until closing," she said. "To do what we did, to get this close, without the support of a major party, without a professional campaign manager, without consultants directing work -- is incredible and in stark contrast to my opponent. Of the people, by the people, for the people -- this was a good, clean campaign and I am so proud of everything we did."

This is far from the end for Wytoski.

"I am certain I will run for office again," she said. "For my entire adult life, I have served my local community and prioritized my volunteer work, even over my paid career, where I was a half-time teacher for a long time so I could focus on my city work."

Wytoski said she sees many "unmet needs" in the county.

"I will still be here, advocating for improvements for our public spaces, vulnerable residents, schools, and certainly, in our representation," she said. "All voices deserve to be heard."

As for Johnston, he starts his commissioner training via the County College program in January. His primary focus come the new year will be budgeting and pushing for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to be permitted in the county's rural residential areas.

"I acknowledge that there are community members feeling many different emotions right now," he said. "I ask that I be given a fair chance to prove myself as your next county commissioner and that we all work together to be positive, truthful, respectful and fair in our dealings with each other. My door is always open to you; I am just a phone call away."

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