Writings and observations

Taking a quick look at the county breakout of the Republican primary vote in Idaho’s two U.S. House districts . . .

The hot contest was in the 1st, mainly between Raul Labrador (who won) and Vaughn Ward (who was the clear frontrunner for most of the campaign). It wasn’t especially close: 47.6% to 38.9%. If the polling and the sense of local comment are reasonable guides, this probably was a race that broke pretty hard toward the end, as the storm of bad news descended on Ward.

There’s some support for this in the county breakdown, where you’d expect more voter response to the news items to come in the larger, and more media-centered, counties. Labrador’s strongest county (57.9%), of the district’s 19, was Ada County (Boise). That could have been helped along, though not explained entirely, by Labrador’s many years of work in the county Republican organization. But the hard-breaking news had to be a factor. Next-door and second-largest Canyon County, at 53.9% (and where Labrador had no comparable personal history), was Labrador’s third-best.

The third largest county in the district, Kootenai, went for Ward (46.7% to 37.1%). Could the changing media environment in that area have mattered in that? The Spokane Spokesman-Review, which covered the 1st district race intensively and broke some major stories, was once the dominant newspaper presence there, but has largely pulled out, and the remaining local papers appeared to have less coverage of the quirks in the race. Did that matter?

Labrador’s best five counties, in order: Ada, Payette, Canyon, Gem, Washington. His weakest: Shoshone, Nez Perce, Adams, Latah, Lewis – generally, the least Republican areas of the district. One conclusion from that might be that Labrador has an excellent shot at solidifying his base. Which, in an Idaho 1st general election, could be enough.

The 2nd district was nowhere near as suspenseful; there, incumbent Republican Mike Simpson won decisively as he had been broadly expected to. Simpson has won easy big re-elections for years. There, the question is different: What percentage of Republicans are insurgent enough to vote against this widely-liked and clearly-conservative incumbent?

Well, Simpson got 58.2% of the vote – which suggests that a pretty significant slice of the voters turn thumbs down.

The more interesting element of the vote is that won by Chick Heileson (24.2% overall), the ideological absolutist fire-breather whose every third word is “constitution” and every other third is his interpretation of it. Heileson came in second of the four candidates (one of whom was a state legislator) and won one county, Jefferson (47.9% to 37.3%) over Simpson, and decisively. His approach clearly struck a note in eastern Idaho, which is where his best results were: After Jefferson, Heileson’s best were Bonneville, Bannock, Butte, Oneida, Madison, Fremont, Bingham, Caribou, Clark – all radiating outward from the Idaho Falls-Rigby area. Ada County was one of his weakest (8.9%), and he scored just so-so in the Magic Valley.

There’s an increasing edginess in Idaho politics.

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Idaho

Shorter Dino Rossi: If you’re among those worried about what Washington (the east coast one) is doing, Dino feels your pain.

It was a campaign announcement and Rossi is in, and maybe this is the kind of announcement – streamed on the net – candidates will be using routinely in years to come. There’s nothing holy about making the pronouncement standing in front of some public building with a gaggle of reporters looking on. This one was controlled and precise (even if he did trip over a couple of words). In five minutes Rossi conveyed a campaign message that, improbably, finally got him into the race.

A curious thing: No reference at all to either the people he’s running against right now – meaning the crowd of other Republicans who have been actively campaigning for months – or to his prospective general election opponent, incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray. Not really any specific reference to Washington state, either. The talk opened with a series of questions, some of them so general (do you feel like . . .) they could belong in a poll, or on Oprah. It had in fact such a generic feel that this could have been a campaign speech for any Republican running for any seat in Congress anywhere in the country. Its generic feel, coming from a guy who actually does know Washington well after intensively running for governor twice, seems a little odd.

It was a feel-good speech; after hearing it, you’re clearly meant to be comfortable with this guy. And it works on that level. But Rossi is going to need much more than that. He is starting extremely late in the game for a major candidate for a major office, a contrast to the way he ran his earlier campaigns. However much national money may be poured in, and however many past supporters may line up to help, the problem is that the number of days between here and the primary (which he still has to get through, without alienating his crowd of opposition and their supporters), and the general election, which means he will have to take campaign efficiencies to whole new levels.

To be sure, we had suspected that by the time Rossi got to May and still hadn’t entered, he wasn’t going to. He did. But the reasons why you wouldn’t think he would remain compelling. Rossi has a remarkable challenge on his hands.

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