Steamboat Springs On Monday morning, Ray Birch got out of bed at 4:45 for a run and workout. Garrett Wiggins rose at 5:30 and went in to work.
Today, Republican voters in Steamboat Springs will decide which of the two hard-working, early-rising law enforcement officers will represent the GOP in the race for Routt County Sheriff.
On the final day before today's primary election, neither man did much campaigning. Both spent the day in the office or out in the field. Birch is a sergeant with the Routt County Sheriff's Office. Wiggins works for the Steamboat Springs Police Department as an investigator with the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, or GRAMNET.
In conversations with the Steamboat Pilot & Today, which both men conducted while off-duty, Birch and Wiggins shared final thoughts about the primary campaign that has dominated their spare time for the past several months. Their race is the only contested primary on today's Routt County ballots. The winner will face Democrat Gary Wall, a private investigator and former Vail police chief, in the Nov. 7 general election.
"These have probably been some of the most hard-working, traumatic months of my life," Wiggins said. "This is the first stint in politics I've ever taken - I've definitely learned a lot. I thought I knew a lot of people throughout this county, and I do, but I have definitely met a lot of great people who I didn't know before."
Birch said he also has been on a steep learning curve, especially when it comes to public speaking - a task he said he was apprehensive about at first.
"I'm actually beginning to enjoy standing in front of a group and talking about my ideals," Birch said, citing consistent practice at events, community meetings and public forums that took place "every weekend and most evenings" since the spring.
Although both men said the campaign has been clean and void of mudslinging, Birch expressed displeasure at negative comments he said Wiggins has made about the administration of the current Routt County Sheriff, John Warner, who has endorsed Birch.
Wiggins served under Warner as a sheriff's deputy, a post he left in 2003.
"Esprit de corps is a huge thing for me," Birch said, using a phrase that refers to group morale. "I've never worked for a place that I've not been proud of. And it's more important to focus on what's happening now."
Wiggins said he has not "badmouthed" the Warner administration but has simply answered questions about issues such as high turnover rates in the Sheriff's Office.
"I think my words got a little twisted from time to time," Wiggins said. "I stated that there has been a conflict of management styles and left it at that. (Warner) has done some very good things as sheriff. But no matter how good a job you do, there's always room for improvement."
After months of posting signs across the county, placing ads with local media outlets and campaigning whenever possible, both men expressed confidence in their chances at victory and said they are ready to see the results.
"I feel like I've done everything I can possibly do in terms of preparation for this primary," Birch said.
"The suspense is pretty overwhelming," Wiggins said.
If you vote
The primary election is today. Ballots can be cast from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following polling locations:
• North Routt Community Charter School in Clark
• Routt County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall in Hayden
• Steamboat Pilot & Today conference room
• Routt County Courthouse Annex
• Yampa Valley Medical Center conference room
• Fairfield Inn conference room
• Oak Creek Town Hall
• Yampa Town Hall
Voters can cast a ballot at the polling center most convenient for them.
Deadlines have passed for registering to vote in the primary election and for requesting an absentee ballot to be mailed to a voter's residence.
For more information, visit the Clerk and Recorder at www.co.routt.co.us, or call the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office at 870-5556.