Tuesday will mark Idaho's first try at a partially-closed primary election. That means Republicans will allow only people declaring themselves to be Republicans to vote in that party's primary. Democrats will allow anybody.
We've talked with a number of people who, disgusted at the idea of publicly declaring a party affiliation, said they won't participate in this primary. How many of them there will be is unclear, especially since some of the early numbers are showing participation is up.
Anyway, these are some of the Idaho primary contests we'll be watching most closely Tuesday night.
1 - House 2B (R) - Phil Hart (inc), Ed Morse (ch), Ron Vieselmeyer (ch), Fritz Wiedenhoff (ch). The Idaho Panhandle is a place of real intra-Republican ferment in this season, and this is one of the reasons why. Hart, who has a number of, let's say issues, with the State Tax Commission (more specifically, it with him - and the IRS too), has a substantial core of defenders in this extremely Republican district. His opposition is split three ways, with Morse getting support from a relatively moderate organization (though they would not call themselves that) and Vieselmeyer, a former legislator, from some other conservative activists. (They have a lot of conservative Republican organizations up in the Panhandle.) Everyone's watching this one.
2 - Senate District 5 (R) - Gresham Bouma (ch), Barrett Schroeder (ch). The winner here gets to face Democrat Dan Schmidt, who in this moderate district last cycle easily defeated Bouma, who was allied with the Tea Party - who had in the 2010 primary defeated Republican incumbent Gary Schroeder. Now Barrett Schroeder (that's right) and Bouma are having it out - and Barrett's campaign material is the most eye-grabbing of the season. The centerpiece of his campaign front page is worth quoting at length, as he proclaims himself: "A Peacemaker, Not a Troublemaker. Idaho MUST reject Extremism and Hate. Education is an investment in our future. I support the University of Idaho and our schools. Government of Laws and Accountability, Not Conspiracy Theories and Secret Militias. A Pro-Business Conservative: 10 years as Chair of Latah County Republicans, Manager of family business, Moscow Hide and Fur." Bouma's web page is a lot less interesting; he "pledges to support Constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and states' rights."
3 - Senate District 20 (D) - none on ballot. This is the odd case of the group, because there isn't a primary contest here. Republican incumbent Chuck Winder currently is unopposed in either primary or general election. But Eagle resident James Mace filed in March as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination; if he gets 50 write-ins, he qualifies for a spot on the November ballot against Winder. He has the usually notoriously low Democratic turnout in that district to contend with, but quite a few people think he can manage the 50-vote threshold, and make for a lively contest in the fall. The first step, if it happens, has to be cleared on Tuesday. This write-in is apt to get unusual attention, if it succeeds, because Winder was the highly visible sponsor of last session's intensely controversial (nationally as well as in the state) transvaginal ultrasound bill.
4 - Senate 1 (R) - Danielle Ahrens (ch), Shawn Keough (inc). All three Republican legislators in District 1 are being challenged as being insufficiently conservative. Such defining is awfully slippery, and probably seriously disingenuous. Keough, the senator of the three, has for some cycles held the vice-chair spot on the Senate side of the Idaho Legislature's budget committee; such a position doesn't go to anyone whose conservative cred is considered seriously questionable (by legislative Republicans, unless you consider them liberals). So, what this challenge means or amounts to isn't totally clear, other than that it has been energetic. But there is this: If it succeeds, it would send some shock waves.
5 - Presidential primary (R). Yeah, yeah, the nomination is sewn up for Mitt Romney. But the Ron Paul people in Idaho (and in some other places) are making loud noises, and this would be a logical place for them to try.
6 - Senate District 23 (R) - Bert Brackett (inc), Tim Corder (inc.). Yes, this is one of those post-redistricting contests throwing together two incumbents, and although both are fair exemplars of this rugged and rural southwest Idaho range land, Brackett and Corder are quite different in legislative outlook. Corder is the more independent and free-ranging in his outlook, Brackett is the more business-oriented and closer to state Republican establishment (his backers include Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Senator James Risch, as well as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry).
7 - House District 7A (R) - Shannon McMillan (inc), Rex Rammell (ch). Remember Rex Rammell? If not, then go here. Well, he's back, in a brand new legislative district where the incumbent lives in, and has previously represented, just the northern end of it. Of course, Rammell is fairly new here too (he previously ran for the legislature around Rexburg), but this is quirky territory. We'd tend to figure McMillan takes it, but who knows for sure?
8 - U.S. Representative District 2 (R) - M.C. "Chick" Heileson (ch), Mike Simpson (inc). Last year this was a lot hotter than now, and Simpson's renomination doesn't seem anywhere near in danger. But it will be a good metric for evaluating the Tea influence this year: Heileson's voice is a fierce one.
9 - Senate District 28 (R open) - W. Rusty Barlow, Jim Guthrie. This should be fascinating. Guthrie, now a representative from a Pocatello-area district, has been a Bannock County commissioner and has developed a campaigning style that keeps him in conservative territory but makes him acceptable to just enough Pocatellans. Barlow, who served in the House from 1976-82, is of a different style entirely - he was one of the most bluntly conservative legislators back in his day. This is quite a contrast, and the results should be fascinating.
10 - U.S. Representative District 2 (D) - Jack Wayne Chappell (ch), Nicole LeFavour. The general expectation is that LeFavour, a state senator and Idaho's only openly gay legislator, will get the nomination easily against perennial candidate Chappell. Probably (though we don't consider it a lock). But this will be one of those cases where it will pay to watch the details of the local returns.