"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.

Three statewides

idaho RANDY

Draw no wild predictions of massive upsets into this, but three statewide offices below the top level – which would mean governor and Congress – have developed some new dynamics this year. They’re different enough that, three months out from the general election, there’s at least some sense of unpredictability about them.

The default prediction in Idaho when an office has a partisan label (as federal, state and county offices mostly do) is, simply, the Republican wins. It’s a reasonable standard-issue answer in not all but most cases.

Noted here, three that don’t necessarily reverse that, but ought to give prognosticators pause.

One, the most easily explained, is superintendent of public instruction, held for the last two terms by Republican Tom Luna. The two terms before that, however, it was held by Democrat Marilyn Howard, the Democrat most recently (12 years ago) elected statewide. When she retired in 2006, after having beaten Luna four years earlier, the Democratic nominee was Jana Jones, who was Howard’s chief deputy. Jones nearly beat Luna, in one of the closer elections in Idaho that year. This year, she is running again, and is well-funded and highly active.

Her Republican opponent, Sherri Ybarra, has appeal and good classroom cred, but she was a surprise winner in a deeply split primary, and to date still hasn’t been very visible or (visibly) organized. She contrasts with the highly-organized and campaign-honed Luna of 2006. This may change, and if as is possible she runs a solid campaign, the Republican label could carry her through. Right now, it’s hard to know, and Jones is not badly positioned.

State Treasurer Ron Crane has had a series of bad headlines this season about his management of the office (and the finances it generates), the sort of thing elected officials usually find . . . unhelpful. He has a strongly aggressive Democratic opponent in Deborah Silver, a Twin Falls CPA who has been working hard and doing just about everything she can to keep those headlines in view and discuss them in detail.

How much has this actually been hurting Crane, who has been elected to the job four times, has been mostly uncontroversial over the last 16 years and is one of the major Republicans in the state not caught up in the party’s internal warfare? Crane himself has hinted at some concern by releasing counter statements, like one about earning a billion dollars for the state over his tenure. Is it a signal that Silver, and the headlines, are beginning to punch through?

A non-incumbent counterpart to that one would be in the secretary of state’s race, where popular incumbent Ben Ysursa is retiring. Ysursa had a replacement preference in the Republican primary and pitched a strong endorsement, but in a deeply split primary the Republican voters instead chose former House Speaker Lawerence Denney. Denney has been highly controversial, was in the middle of a string of intra-party fights over the years, has been accused of favoritism and worse, and racked up bum headlines and editorials by the score over the years of his speakership.

His Democratic opponent is first-term Representative Holli Woodings, who has drawn at least some Republican support (notably from former Representative Leon Smith), and has a case to make against Denney. So far, she’s been less aggressive than Silver. This race, though, chiefly involves the question: Are Denney’s controversies enough to cause Idaho voters to move past their usual Republican preference?

We have yet to see how this plays out; call it an unanswered question.

As with the other two. Which means, in these three races alone, there’s a little more interest in Idaho’s general election than in most recent cycles in the Gem State.

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