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Top 10 ID xgr: The premier races

In Washington and Oregon, the two major parties each elect enough members to the chambers that control of all four of those chambers is this election year, realistically, up for grabs – the idea of one party or the other winning enough to change control isn’t unreasonable. Not so in Idaho, where the Republican dominance is so sweeping that Democratic control of either chamber is into meteorite-falls-on-your-head territory. Actually, given the numbers of candidates, beyond that.

That still doesn’t mean the contests are insignificant. Even a small minority party can make its influence felt, as the Democrats did in the last special session. And they can grow their numbers, and some net growth seems likely this election. How much? Consider the list here, and evaluate for yourself. (Our early estimate: by about 2-5 seats.) The following races (as in Washington and Oregon) are listed for a mix of their probable closeness, their intensity, and their larger significance.

Our Oregon list appeared last week, and the Washington list will be posted after that state’s primary election. The races are listed by district number.

blue glass District 1 House A, incumbent Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; challenger Steve Elgar, D-Sandpoint. Elgar ran one of the most energetic and best-funded state legislative races in Idaho in 2004, and he still lost by familiar margins. This year (as of the post-primary reports) he’s again outspending Republican Eric Anderson, and he’s a more familiar figure, running in what should be a somewhat better year for Democrats. With what results will be curious to see.

blue glass District 4 Senate, incumbent John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; challenger Steven L. Foxx, D-Coeur d’Alene. Two factors make this worth a good look. One is that this central Coeur d’Alene district has shown itself amenable to Democrats; it has one in the House this term, had two last term. Second is a sense that Goedde has gotten a little more controversial in the last couple of years, around his vote switch on gay marriage, education (very hard-line remarks about the Idaho Education Association) and other things. Foxx has little money (as of the post-primary), but he has jumped on the hot property tax issue, and that could be significant. Also: There’s a third candidate in the race, an independent, who might also draw a bit from Goedde. Goedde’s still favored, but that could change.

blue glass District 7 Senate, incumbent Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston; challenger Mike Naccarato, D-Lewiston. Another rematch. This was one of the top races in 2004 (Naccrato was then a state representative), and it will be close-fought again as Stegner, an assistant majority leader, goes for his fifth term. District 7 – mainly Lewiston – trended Republican in the 90s, trended back toward Democrats early in this decade, and seems highly competitive. Stegner’s support seems quite steady; but will a somewhat better political environment help Naccarato this time?

blue glass District 7 House A, open. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston; Tony Snodderly, R-Lewiston. Of the currently Democratic state legislative seats, only two are open: District 7’s House A, from which legislative veteran Mike Mitchell is retiring this year, and the District 29 Senate seat (see below). District 7 has become a politically marginal place, and this seat appears up for grabs, although Democrat Liz Chavez appears to have been running the stronger campaign and is favored. As with the Senate seat here, however, this will be a significant marker on the trend lines for Nez Perce County.

blue glass District 17 House A, incumbent Kathie Garrett, R-Boise; challenger Bill Killen, D-Boise.
blue glass District 17 House B, incumbent Janet Miller, R-Boise; challenger Sue Chew, D-Boise.
In 2004 the Garrett contest was the closest legislative race in Idaho, a scant nine votes separating Garrett and Democrat Sean Spence. Spence has left the state, but the new Democratic challenger, Killen, looks at least as strong. He’s a former mayor of McCall, and he’s running aggressively. There’s also some feeling that Garrett might have damaged herself with her backing of Governor Jim Risch’s property tax bill in the recent special session. Boise’s bench – which is 17 – is perhaps the top partisan battleground in the state. While Democratic Senator Elliott Werk seems to have entrenched himself, both Republican House seats (the other held by Janet Miller, and also seriously contested) bear watching, though Garrett’s position seems a bit more tenuous.

blue glass District 20 Senate, incumbent Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian; challenger Laurynda “Ryndy” Williams , D-Meridian. Can’t say we’re yet sold on this; but we’ve had a batch of correspondents who say they are. Sweet is one of the most hard-core of social conservatives in the Idaho Legislature – close to and a big backer of congressional candidate Bill Sali – and also controversial: Headlines from earlier this year noted that Sweet missed a whole pile of meetings and votes of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, so he could tend to personal business. And he’s figured in some in-party controversy this year too. In recent years, this Meridian district is the kind of place that wouldn’t care: If he has an R behind his name, he’s good enough. Certainly, Williams is putting that proposition to the test with a race as vigorous as any in the state. (Although: Where’s her web presence?) A Sweet loss would be an earthquake-caliber event; we’ll see if it happens.

blue glass District 20 House B, incumbent Shirley McKague, R-Meridian; challenger Chuck Oxley, D-Meridian. Not posted here because we expect the seat to flip, or even get close. This race is worth watching as a point of instruction in political science. Some months back, we observed to Oxley, shortly after he left wire service reporting to work for the Idaho Democratic Party (but before he filed for this race), that Democrats have done best in Idaho in the most urban areas, such as the north end and central parts of Boise, and to a very lesser degree in central Nampa. Oxley suggested that booming Meridian is growing so fast into a distinctive urban area of its own, that it might start developing a small Democratic base too – which it definitely has not had up to now. Will Oxley’s own race suggest a future for Democrats in central Meridian? We’ll be parsing the precincts on November 8.

blue glass District 29 Senate, open. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon. This open seat, vacated by former state Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Bert Marley, has large interest because of the names running. Bilyeu was a senator for one term back in the late 60s, but her husband held the seat for 24 years after that, until 1994. And since the early 90s, Diane Bilyeu has been assessor at Bannock County, and a popular political figure. Guthrie is a substantial figure, too; he’s been elected to the Bannock County Commission, and is a familiar name on local ballots. Bilyeu is favored, but this is a race between two significant local figures.

blue glass District 29 House A, open. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs; Allen Andersen, D-Pocatello. Four years ago, Anderson won this seat, joining a solid block of legislative Democrats from Bannock County. Two years ago Andrus unseated Anderson; Anderson maintains that is in large part because he let down his guard. He’s been campaigning hard this year. This race will say something about the partisan climate of Bannock County.

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