Soon enough we’ll get to the general election implications of Bill Sali’s win of the Republican primary for the 1st U.S. House district. Those, and what it says about the first district itself.
For the moment, though, let’s reflect on the primary results as such, and for both Republicans and Democrats some prevailing trends suggest themselves.
Generally speaking, this primary was good for hard-line social conservatives. Sali was Exhibit A: He posited the race explicitly as himself – defined as a sort of purist conservative – against Sheila Sorensen, loosely defined as a moderate or liberal or something equally unsavory. His final appeal is that the winner will be him or her, and true conservatives would know what to do. The religious conservative front certainly did, from the appeals on the anti-abortion front to the Alan Keys event in Kootenai County last weekend. Sali’s win was part of an organized effort, and it should be no surprise that the effort bore fruit elsewhere too. Our suspicion (voiced in this space) was that just such support would allow Sali to outrun the indicators of polls.
There were other exhibits of this too, on Tuesday night. Phil Hart, hardcorne on the tax and social front in the Panhandle was challenged by the veteran legislator, Wayne Meyer, he beat two years ago; the win then seemed almost a fluke, attendant in part to Meyer’s not paying enough attention. Hart’s smackdown of Meyer this time shows that nothing fluky was involved. In Gem County, Kathy Skippen’s loss to Steven Thayne was another takedown of a relative centrist in the House Republican caucus by a candidate far to the right.
True, some races ran the other way. In Canyon County’s District 10, Robert Ring’s holdoff of front-the-right challenger Rob Oates probably reflected some built-up personal appeal by Ring. In district 14, Stan Bastian has a long history around Eagle and a solid personal constituency, and his from-the-right challenge, Rod Beck, has run and lost a little too often; once a strong vote-getter in the region, he may be considered just a perennial candidate now. And the District 16 Senate contest between John Andreason and Dennis Mansfield was an unusual case; Mansfield is on a journey of discovery, and he isn’t quite as easily pigeon-holed as he once seemed to be. What may have seemed like philosophical blurriness – not to us, but possibly to some voters – may have hurt him.
Then there’s the very interesting case of the nomination for superintendent of public instruction, about which the prevailing wisdom was that Tom Luna, who campaigned for this office hard to the right in 2002 and softened his stand this year, would probably win. State Representative Steve Smylie was thought not to be “conservative” enough to win the primary vote, and Coeur d’Alene principal Steve Casey was an unknown to the party. Casey wound up in a fairly predictable third place, but the curiousity is that Smylie and Luna wound up in a nailbiter. At this writing, Smylie was leading by one percentage point, but about half of the precincts still out were in Canyon County, where in early counts Luna was ahead. So we don’t consider this race callable yet.
What happened? Three items that we suspect contributed: Smylie seemed to project a more conservative tone in the primary; meanwhile, Luna seemed to shift toward the center, possibly in a long-range bid for general election votes; and (we just have the suspicion) in this season of high immigrant awareness, there may have been some pulling of support for Luna, who is Hispanic, in the Republican primary.
The Republicans seems to be edging, this season, gently to the right.
And the Democrats? There’s less to go by, mainly two races, for lieutenant governor and superintendent. LG went to Larry La Rocco, who may have seemed a safe choice since he is certainly an experienced candidate. That wasn’t a surprise. The choice of Department of Education administrator Jana Jones over eastern Idaho state Senator Bert Marley, though, was: Marley would seem, on the surface at least, to be the more electable in November. But maybe the logic ran this way: Jones can be presented as a continuation of the Marilyn Howard Administration, since Howard is the only suriving statewide Democrat. And, before her election, Howard had never won elective office either.
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