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When Republicans collapse

idaho RANDY

Several weeks ago Marc Johnson, who has been a Boise consultant, press secretary and journalist, wrote a piece of a blog post that has been sticking in my mind these last couple of weeks. It may stick in yours.

The key sentence in it says this: “The near total history of Democratic success in Idaho, dating back to at least Frank Church’s first election in 1956, has its foundation in Republican mistakes.”

He went on to cite a few examples, but many more are available. Let’s recap, starting with Church, the highly capable campaigner who likely would not have won his first Senate race in 1956 but for the weaknesses of incumbent Republican Herman Welker. Welker had been Senator Joe McCarthy’s closest Senate ally, and McCarthy was by 1956 in national disgrace. Coupled with that, Idahoans were seeing Welker had some kind of serious but unacknowledged physical problem that was causing him to behave erratically; it was widely assumed to be alcoholism but was in fact a brain tumor, which killed him not long after the election.

In 1960, Democrat Ralph Harding was able to beat Republican Representative Hamer Budge after Budge had become too enamored of his committee assignments and lost track of his district.

A decade later, Democrat Cecil Andrus thinly beat incumbent Republican Governor Don Samuelson after a long series of small but embarrassing glitches and an overall weak governorship.

In 1984, it took a string of felony convictions to narrowly remove Republican Representative George Hansen in favor of Democrat Richard Stallings.

In 1990, Republican legislators pushed too far for the state’s preference (at the time at least) on abortion legislation, and Democrats did uncommonly well that year, the last time to date that’s been true. That also happened to be the last time Republicans were as internally divided as they are now, though the emotions didn’t run nearly so hot then.

In 1998, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Anne Fox was the subject of long strings of negative headlines and criticism, and she lost to Democrat Marilyn Howard, who ran as a capable and low key alternative.

A string of mistakes too in the following decade happened in the single term of Representative Bill Sali, who lost in 2008 to Democrat Walt Minnick.

Taken together, these instances pretty much account for substantial Democratic Idaho wins in the last few decades. A common denominator has been a serious flaw, or flaws, on the Republican side – and a Democratic alternative in place to take advantage when those emerged. (The smooth, functional and harmonious Democratic convention last week at the least gives the impression of a batch of candidates who plausibly could take such advantage.)

Which brings us up to this year, and the question of the moment: Do the Idaho Republicans’ ongoing round of internal battles, some of which have resulted in internationally embarrassing viral moments, have the potential to knock out Republican candidates in this year’s general election? And if so, which?

From here, the jury’s still out.

But I suspect Johnson might agree that the question has become worth asking.

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