"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The outsider run

idaho RANDY

Last week a veteran of Idaho Republican politics pitched to me a simple case for a big reason the outsider candidates – insurgent or Tea Party-aligned by other verbiage – are unlikely to do well in the May primary elections.

The idea is that many pro-Republican voters do not self-identify as Republicans.

They may consider themselves “conservative” (a slippery term these days, but employed in self-definition) and may vote for Republicans, but they don’t really consider themselves part of the party. These people are individualists and by inclination not joiners. Many of them may decline to sign a paper identifying themselves as Republicans.

And that could impair the base of support for the insurgency campaigns, such as for Russ Fulcher for governor and Bryan Smith for Congress. The self-identified Republicans may be more establishment in temperament, may be more willing to sign the paper (as may some Democrats who become “primary Republicans”) which may help people like current Governor C.L .”Butch” Otter and Representative Mike Simpson toward re-election.

There’s certainly good reason for taking this line of argument, which seems to be accepted wisdom among many Idaho Republican leaders, quite seriously, as at least some people associated with the insurgency campaigns certainly do.

One reason is that in 2012, when the Republican primary was closed to declared party members only, insurgent candidates (mainly for the legislature) did poorly at the polls.

Another, more subjective reason but evidently quite real, is the description of the insurgent base by other Republicans as “a herd of cats” – the standard description, and often spoken in frustration. It makes sense. These are, after all, people who don’t like to organize, aren’t big on strong commitments to groups (their most in-common complaint, after all, is against government and regulation generally) and aren’t notably trusting of political types.

There may be some significant limiters on the theory. One is that many people may have Republican-registered in 2012 and never changed away from that, which would mean they can vote in the May Republican primary.

There’s also the relatively short primary season, just a couple of months, to try to familiarize voters with a bunch of names they’ve not seen before. Otter and Simpson are known quantities; the outsiders will have to convince votes not only that they should not vote once again, as they have so many times before, for these candidates; they will have to make clear who they, the challengers, are, and why they would be better.

It’s a tall order.

Whoever is right may matter a lot. Idaho this season has a string of these insurgent/establishment contests for offices running from the U.S. House and governor to lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and a bunch of legislative seats (not that the list stops there). If one side or the other sweeps the contests – which on balance seems a more likely outcome than an even split – not only the tone but some of the substance of the way Idaho is governed would be affected.

But it’s difficult to engineer that kind of change by changing the election laws. The new edition of the magazine Governing points this out in looking nationally at the new rules many states have imposed on voting requirements: “Adding obstacles to voting is clearly something that’s a problem for individual voters. However, the cumulative impact of voting-rule changes on determining the winner of key races looks more likely to be hit and miss in 2014.”

So it may be, in the area of Republican primary election closure, in Idaho.

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