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Is the difference enough?

idaho RANDY

There now being a partisan 2014 campaign for governor – at least one substantially-organized member of each major party – maybe the first thing to do is to fresh our memories of 2010.

The Democratic nominee that year was Keith Allred, a specialist in conflict resolution, a former faculty member at Harvard, a businessman, an Idaho native – he grew up around Twin Falls – and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He had never been a candidate for office before, but he had been involved in Idaho politics as a leader of the non-partisan group Common Interest, which had some successes at the Idaho Legislature. This fresh face was polished, articulate and seldom gaffed; he was obviously a very bright man, but carried that without projecting a sense of superiority.

He campaigned with some rigor, and pulled in support from across the aisle. The Republicans for Allred group may have had the most impressive roster of identifiably Republican members ever to cross parties in such a high-profile race, a string of well-respected former state senators and county officials among them.

Why was this long-avowed independent running as a Democrat? From his web site: “Like many Idahoans, my independent streak runs deep—I like good ideas and good leaders wherever they come from.  When the Democratic Party asked me to become their gubernatorial candidate, they told me that they were offering to enthusiastically support the sort of leadership I’ve provided at The Common Interest.” More there, in other words, about Democrats agreeing to support him, than about him supporting them and their agenda.

On election day, Allred pulled 32.8% of the vote, to Republican incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter’s 59.1%. Holding Otter below a 60% true landslide was about as far as he could push it.
The other Democrats running for statewide office ranged from 24.9% to 39.5%, so Allred actually did a little better than average. But despite the many real pluses he brought, Allred in the end attracted few votes outside the Democratic base, though bipartisan support was supposed to be his big wild card.

This year’s new Democratic candidate for governor is A.J. Balukoff, a successful Boise businessman and a veteran member of the Boise School Board (meaning he has run for office, albeit nonpartisan). Apart from a biographical details, he has a lot in common with Allred – smart, presentable, a (to most of the state) fresh face. Bi-partisan (he was listed as a Republican supporter of Democrat Walt Minnick in 2008). Very strongly interested and active in education. Mormon. Articulate. Energetic.

So the question is, why will he bring masses of voters to his side of the equation, when Allred could not? The Democrats need not just a respectable standard bearer: They need someone who will shuffle the cards, rejigger the calculus.
You could make a few counter points.

One is the nature of the opposition. In 2010, Otter had in-party opposition only at the margins; this cycle, his race against state Senator Russ Fulcher threatens to crack the party wide open. The potential for a perfect political storm is out there, though the odds of it coalescing are not large. And 2014 may not be quite the kind of conservative activist year 2010 was. (What kind of year it will be still is hard to know.)
Balukoff is wealthy, and if the race is brought reasonably close he might be willing to pad the treasury in the late game. And that might help.

There is also the difference in professional outlook and approach between the academic and mediator Allred, who seemed to have difficulty campaigning in the role of a challenger, and Balukoff, who has been a businessman and may be more willing to mix it up.

Still, more generally, the Allred and Balukoff races have this is common: The plight of a political party that repeatedly turns for its standard bearers to candidates whose comfort zone seems to lie outside serving as chief spokesman for the party whose ticket they’re leading.

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