Writings and observations

John Koster
John Koster

The whole notion of Dennis Kucinich, who may face a redistrict squeeze in his Ohio environments, running next year in a new Washington state district (or District 1, if Jay Inslee runs for governor), sounds so ridiculous on its face that you have to wonder why the idea still seems to have legs. Which, odd as it may be, it seems to.

That frame of mind made us initially dismissive of word today that Republican John Koster, who last year lost – but by a hairline only – his bid to unseat 2nd district Representative Rick Larsen, is planning to run for Congress again next year.

Has announced it today on his website, in fact, and noting this: “With Koster’s strong showing against Congressman Rick Larsen in November of 2010, many supporters have urged him to consider a run against United States Senator Maria Cantwell. While Koster has not ruled out the possibility, he has made it clear that pursing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is “where his heart is.”

Okay: First thought was that this was not a great idea, based on the second-run principle and the changed-year probability. Candidates who face off in successive election years against the same candidate and lose, tend to lose worse the second time, unless some key element in their race – something about one of the candidates, something in the political environment, something in the structure of the race – has changed dramatically in between to the benefit of the challenger. And if Koster faced Larsen again, what would that be? On the other hand, 2012 is unlikely to be as favorable a year for Republicans as 2010 was.

And the idea of a Senate run against Cantwell – well, good luck with that. Koster might well get the nomination, but he’d need some kind of astounding luck to prevail there.

However, on further reflection, there’s this: The House picture in northwest Washington will be changing. There will be new congressional districts in 2012, and no one now knows what they’ll look like. Besides that, if Inslee does run for governor – which seems to be the wide expectation – that could open District 1, of some facsimile thereof, which might (or might not) be more politically competitive than it is now. Or, Larsen might be thrown into a very different kind of district.

In any of these events, Koster, by announcing now, has made himself a player in the mix – someone who will have to be dealt with and accounted for as Republicans start to sift through their options in the area for 2012. His prospective role in this gives local Republicans something of a planning principle to work around, which is better than having none at all.

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The numbers – of how Idahoans identify politically – seem to continue in consistent patterns. But what to make of them?

By all means check out the new Johnson Post (by Boisean Marc Johnson) item on a poll conducted (recently; dates not specifically noted) for the Gallatin Group (for which Johnson works) and the Idaho Business Review, by pollster Greg Strimple. (Though we couldn’t help recalling this.)

Just a passing thought about it here.

Growing out of two key lines of Johnson’s summary. One: “Right now 38% of Idahoans self-identify as Republican, another 32.5% call themselves Independents, who are affiliated with no party, and just over 24% say they are Democrats.” The other: “a strong plurality of Idahoans – 47.5% – consider themselves very or somewhat conservative. Another 29% describe themselves as moderates, while about 16% call themselves liberal.”

These sound, facially, like an honest polling results – along the lines of what you’d expect to see. But what does it mean?

It means that an Idaho Republican that has been moving in a direction it (and most observers) consider ever more conservative, has been attracting self-identified adherents well below the logical philosophical base. Look at it this way: If the two major parties logically split through the middle, with Republicans winning support from conservatives and half the moderates and Democrats the liberals and half the moderates, then Republicans should be at 62% and Democrats at 38%. That actually does match up, roughly, with many statewide election results, but it also suggests that despite the broad preference for Republican candidates, the party itself seems less popular – backed specifically by fewer than two in five Idaho voters.

Here’s a question to ask – tricky for a pollster to do in a neutral enough way, but important: What do Idahoans think it means to say that someone is conservative, or moderate, or liberal? What are these things, definitionally? What do they translate to? Are the three labels simply picked out as easy bumper stickers? How closely do they match up, accurately, voter preferences with candidates, and parties?

We’ll be back to this.

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Idaho