A stunning vote margin of 64 percent to 36 percent held steady through much of the night, according to unofficial returns, reversing a poll tally from late September that showed Kennard some 30 points ahead.
"It's startling," Winder said amid cheers at a hotel reception for Democrats, where he was joined by fellow deputies. "The reason was a sense that the office needed new leadership."
Winder stopped short of suggesting that a perceived arrogance from his GOP foe influenced the electorate, but said "the golf story was symptomatic of a larger problem."
A political newcomer related to the Winder Dairy family, Winder made a memorable campaign play - he took aim at Kennard's weekday golf habit - which defined the contest.
During the campaign, Kennard downplayed the slap at his hobby - he always packs a cell phone and pager in his bag, he noted - and rejected allegations that hitting the links affected his stewardship over public safety.
Still, the golf talk - a Utah Golf Association Web site showed the sheriff played four 18-hole rounds the week of President Bush's visit - seemed to cement suggestions that Kennard was out of touch after 16 years as the county's top cop.
"There were a lot of mistakes made," said Kennard in conceding late Tuesday. "The golf was one issue. It was time for a new sheriff. That was his motto and the public obviously agreed."
Any boost Republicans projected from an eleventh-hour attack on Winder may have backfired. On Sunday, GOP county Chairman James Evans peddled a deputy-training video in which heavily edited clips appeared to show Winder boasting about being able to "give an ass kicking or maybe shoot some guy if I'm really lucky."
Winder insisted the video was out of context - that he was role-playing.
"It was dirty politics," said Winder, who credited support from rank-and-file cops for his victory. "People are very sick of them."
* Tribune reporters Thomas Burr and Robert Gehrke contributed to this story.