Idaho’s slate regions

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Idaho

With the most recent election results, a new regional political map of Idaho has emerged.

The higher-level offices contested in Idaho’s Republican primary election last week were fought over primarily by two clearly competing slates of candidates, those you might call the establishment candidates (who mainly were incumbents) and the insurgents, who challenged them.

Apart from the fact that the establishment won those major offices nearly across the board – losing only for secretary of state (where former House Speaker Lawerence Denney won) – the results varied quite a bit among the candidates. In the controller’s race, Todd Hatfield came within about a percentage point of unseating incumbent Brandon Woolf (who had the disadvantage of never having been on the ballot before). Incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter scored only a modest win (51.4%) against state Senator Russ Fulcher. Meanwhile, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden scored a near-landslide over attorney Chris Troupis, and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little won smashingly (66.8%) over county commissioner Jim Chemelik. In the four-way superintendent of public instruction race, insurgent candidate John Eynon came in third.

But these races, as varied as their statewide totals may be, look surprisingly similar on county maps.

Fulcher, Chmelik, Denney, Hatfield, Troupis and Eynon, so varied in their statewide results, all won in Benewah, Clearwater, Idaho and Kootenai counties, and either won or nearly won in Latah, Boundary, Bonner, Shoshone and Latah and Nez Perce – in other words, all of northern Idaho. In no southern Idaho county did the insurgency fare nearly so consistently well.

And this relates to all of the north, however it tends to vote in the fall. Latah and Nez Perce counties are fairly competitive between Republicans and Democrats, in contrast to such others as Kootenai and Bonner, but in the primary all fell sharply into the insurgent camp.

And some of those northern wins were really striking. While losing clearly statewide, for example, Fulcher won Benewah County about three to one – and so did Troupis, even while he was losing by a big margin in the state overall.

In the governor’s race, Fulcher did win three counties outside the north: Idaho’s two largest, Ada and Canyon, plus Oneida County. (For whatever reason, Oneida County is the southern Idaho county that came closest to matching the north’s voting pattern.) There’s a case to be made about the growing political difference between Idaho’s first congressional district (north and west) and its second (east and south). But the southern part of the first district, including counties like Valley, Washington and Payette voted a lot like their counterparts to the east, over in the second district. The governor’s race aside, so did Ada and Canyon counties (which is chiefly what made the difference in the controller’s race).

There’s another piece of information to confirm the differences in the north. Legislative candidates who were not aligned with the insurgents, including a number of incumbents, lost almost across the board in the north; incumbent examples include Senator John Goedde and Representatives George Eskridge and Ed Morse. In the south, the reverse was generally true, the big incumbent example being Senator Monty Pearce.

Travelers around Idaho through primary season, watching signage and picking up on locally-produced political literature, sometimes remarked about how different the north seemed to be from the south. Those observations have been borne out.

The biggest divide in Idaho politics today lies along the line between the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

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