Jon McLean, R-Belleville, ran a frugal campaign for the St. Clair County Board chairmanship.
McLean, in the months leading up to the Nov. 6 election, raised about $1,800 -- or about 4 cents for every one of the 45,193 votes he collected.
Incumbent Mark Kern, D-Belleville, raised nearly $277,000 -- or about $4.10 for every one of the 67,680 votes he received in his successful re-election campaign for a third term.
McLean isn't apologizing for his low-key fundraising efforts, or the fact that Kern, the head of a well-organized Democratic team that's controlled county government for decades, raised 153 times the amount he did.
"My race was not necessarily a focus of the party," said McLean, 30, an insurance agent.
"I think if we made it more of a focus we would have put more resources into it."
McLean, the chairman of the county GOP, said his goal from the start was to help fellow Republicans get elected.
Raising money for his campaign could have pulled money away from other Republican candidates, McLean said.
"It wasn't so much about winning, it was about bringing accountability to the county," he said of his campaign. "And in many ways, by us running candidates, and by us having debates, and running a campaign, we may not win, but somewhat indirectly we keep them accountable. And that was our goal."
In addition to facing the Democratic machinery, McLean dealt with another formidable challenge: the Kern family's deep pockets, which accounted for 38 percent of his reported campaign war chest.
Kern declined to address directly the fundraising disparity between his campaign and McLean's.
"As I said, I think we were able to get our message out and we appreciate the continued support of the public," Kern said.
Kern's biggest campaign donor was his own father, Fred J. Kern, who anted up $70,000 in three contributions, state records show.
In addition, Kern's mother, Barbara J. Kern, donated another $10,000, while Kern himself contributed $26,000 to his campaign, state records show.
The Nov. 6 election represented a setback of sorts for the county GOP. After two election cycles of steady gains, the minority Republican Party suffered a net loss of one seat on the 29-member County Board, cutting their caucus from eight to seven.
McLean was the first Republican candidate to challenge Kern in eight years. The last candidate to do that was County Board member Steve Reeb, R-Belleville.
Reeb proved much more successful at fundraising. He collected more than $95,000 in his 2004 campaign, and ended losing to Kern by fewer than 4,000 voters, or 3.5 percent of ballots cast.
Reeb attributed his relative fundraising success to the fact that metro-east physicians at that time, worried about soaring medical malpractice premiums they blamed on Democratic judges, opened up their wallets to him.
Even more important, Reeb said, the close outcome of the 2004 race stemmed from the fact he worked extremely hard on the campaign trail, repeatedly seeking votes in Democratic bastions such as East St. Louis.
"I went to every parade, I went to every neighborhood," he said. "And in this county, that is what it takes."
Many St. Clair County Republicans have expressed doubts throughout the years that they will ever overcome the many advantages the dominant Democrats enjoy -- from patronage jobs to the perception that Republican donors will suffer reprisals -- and elect a GOP candidate to the County Board chairmanship.
"I just in my mind don't see how it could ever happen," said County Board member Craig Hubbard, R-O'Fallon.
Reeb rejects such pessimism.
"I just think if you are a Republican in this county, or an independent, you really have to go the extra mile and work extra hard for those votes," he said. "I do believe you can win in this county. But you have to work for it and earn the trust of the folks."
Despite his loss, McLean said it taught him some important things the GOP needs to do better in 2014.
"The aspect going forward is to make sure we educate the voters better and inform them," he said. "We're learning that we don't do a good job of taking advantage of early voting and absentee voting ... I think that's something we'll do on a local basis. How can Republicans do a better job of taking advantage of early and absentee voting?"
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.