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If it worked once

idaho RANDY

If it worked the first time . . .

You can understand what probably is the temptation facing Sherri Ybarra right now: It worked once, so it should work again.

During the just-finished Republican primary campaign, she raised scarcely any of the money serious statewide candidates usually do (just $2,850), and apart from debates and forums campaigned, hardly at all. She won her race for the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, leading a field of four. And she could look across at a bunch of hard-working, exhaustively-campaigning, solidly fundraising candidates, for her office and for others, who on election night went down to defeat.
The quote from Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost a run for governor after campaigning solidly for months, probably spoke for quite a few of his counterparts: “Holy cow. Ybarra for superintendent? I was on this campaign trail start to finish. And she might be a fine person, but she was not engaged. She was not engaged heavily in this campaign.”

It’s easy to conclude in the circumstances that you’ve just got the right stuff to go all the way.
Anyhow, why mess with what worked once?

In military terms, such thinking is called fighting the last war: Usually a prescription for losing the next one.

Her primary circumstances were unusual. Explanations about her win flowered after election day. She was presented as a teacher, while the others in the race were administrators. (Not entirely true anyway; and administration, not teaching, is what the superintendent’s job is all about.) She had a Basque name, which seems not to hurt in Idaho elections.

Maybe a bigger factor: Voters working their way down the Republican ballot encountered no women at all until they got to her – and she was running for an office many voters are accustomed to seeing go to women. Also, she was the only woman among the four candidates, none of whom were well known statewide. Some combination of these things probably account for much of her vote. And remember, she won by just 28.5% – barely more than she would have gotten if the four candidates had split the vote evenly. This was no sweeping mandate.

Since the primary, instead of using the surprise to her political advantage, she seems to have avoided the spotlight and retreated.

Her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones, is quite a contrast. She ran for the office before, in 2006, and only barely lost to Republican Tom Luna, who himself has been a capable and energetic campaigner. Jones has raised more money as of this point in the cycle than any candidate for this office (Luna included) ever has. Jones has direct campaign help from Luna’s predecessor, Democrat Marilyn Howard, who won the office twice, in 1998 and 2002. (In the last two decades, Democrats have fared better with the superintendent’s office than any other in the upper rungs of Idaho politics.) She was Howard’s top deputy for several years, so she knows the office well. And she has been campaigning strenuously for several months.

Jones, of course, has a D behind her name, which in anything like a battle between two equally-equipped candidates that is a severe disadvantage. But as of today, these candidates are not evenly matched.

Ybarra is not yet too far behind the curve to get up to speed. The period just after winning a primary is good for fundraising and roping in campaign organization around the state. Some intensive study about the politics of the office (which is unavoidable) would help. Name familiarity can be purchased and expanded through energetic campaigning.
There’s still plenty of time to campaign around the state.

Doing all of that, though, will mean running in a way drastically different from the way she did it in the primary.

Because there’s this: What worked for Ybarra in the primary is very unlikely to work in the general.

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