By BRUCE A. SCRUTON
NEWTON -- While it was fairly clear in early results Tuesday evening that Parker Space, of Wantage, would run away with the Republican nomination for a county freeholder seat, the race for the second nomination remained in doubt until the final, unofficial tally gave newcomer Richard Vohden the nod by 42 votes over incumbent and running mate Jeff Parrott.
The fourth candidate in the race, Christopher Kelly of Hamburg, was also in the running to the end, finishing just 323 votes, or less than 2 percent, behind Parrott.
The unofficial vote, which includes military and mail-in ballots, from the Board of Elections showed Space with 9,589 votes (38.91 percent); Green resident Vohden with 5,099 (20.69 percent); Parrott, a Wantage resident seeking his second three-year term, with 5,057 (20.52 percent) and Kelly with 4,734 (19.21 percent).
While there were no names on the Democrat primary ballot, there were 284 write-in votes, which will need to be verified to determine if a viable candidate can be named.
While the Republican nominations and ballot lines in the November election appear sewn up, there is still another fight to go.
Vohden said late Tuesday night that he will go to the Republican county convention next week seeking to fill the unexpired term of Hal Wirths on the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Wirths chose not to run for another term because he had been nominated to be state Labor Commissioner. When his appointment was confirmed late last month, he resigned from the five-member freeholder board.
By state law, it becomes the responsibility of the county committee of the party of the resigning member to pick a replacement.
Last week, when she announced the convention will be held June 16, county committee chair Ailish Hambel said she would recommend that the top vote-getter in Tuesday's primary be selected to be seated immediately.
She could not be contacted late Tuesday for comment on Vohden's announcement that he will seek the unexpired term.
"It's bittersweet," he said of his second-place finish since Parrott did not pick up the nomination. The two ran as a team, with their names together on roadside signs.
Of Space's victory, Vohden said he expected his name recognition "would pull him along," and felt an anti-incumbent feeling among voters also played a part in pushing Space ahead and Parrott down.
"We just lost a lot of experience with Hal and now Jeff leaving," said Vohden who said he would begin getting as much experience and information as he can between now and the election.
Parrott, who serves as freeholder director, was terse in answering questions saying only "Rich is a good man. The voters have spoken. I may have more to say tomorrow."
While Vohden, Parrott and Kelly were at one Republican gathering at the Farmstead in Andover, Space had his own party at the Homestead Restaurant in Sparta.
Space said voters "want to choose who represents them and they knew I have nothing to gain personally."
An eighth-generation Sussex County resident, he readily admitted the family name helped. "I had name recognition and people also know who I am," adding that "people want someone like them to represent them."
The name recognition was laughingly pointed out by Kelly who also has roots in the county but "I didn't have a great-great-great-grandfather who started a farm here. Seriously, his victory had a lot to do with name recognition. Everybody has been to Space Farm."
And Kelly also agreed with another point made by Space.
"Look who won here," Kelly said. "You have two farmers, old-time Sussex County guys. Rich and Parker will represent us well."
Speaking before he knew who would be finishing second, Space said, "Whoever it is, I'm willing to work with them. I want to unite the party and bring all these sides together."