Writings and observations

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Thursday night, Boise Democrats had two schedule-overlapping political events to choose from, both with reverberations in presidential politics.

One was the campaign kick off, at a downtown eatery, for TJ Thomson who is running for Ada County commissioner. Thomson’s political task is difficult (while Boise leans Democratic, Ada overall leans Republican), but not impossible for a well-organized candidate. And Thomson, a young and energetic candidate, will be nothing if not organized. For evidence, consider the 2008 primary (not general) campaign in Idaho for Barack Obama. It was extremely well organized – Obama won – and Thomson was one of its main leaders. A year later he was elected to the Boise City Council, where he still serves.

The other event was a campaign organizing event held at the home of former Representative Larry La Rocco, for a Democratic presidential contender of 2008 and today: Hillary Clinton. Some Democrats tried to scramble from one event to another.

I’m not suggesting here that these activities neatly split Clinton Democrats from those backing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; that didn’t seem to be the case. Based on what I heard from a bunch of Idaho Democrats this week, however, the race between the two in Idaho appears to be highly competitive. It is, in other words, a lot different from 2008 battle when one candidate, Obama, swept Idaho so decisively that Idaho became one of his best nomination wins anywhere in the country.

This time, in contrast, no one seemed entirely confident in predicting who will prevail when Idaho Democrats caucus on March 22.

Anecdotes I heard seem to suggest Idaho Democrats are splitting much like many of their counterparts elsewhere. Younger party members are said to be trending toward Sanders, their elders – and especially many people in party or elective positions – more toward Clinton. The differences didn’t appear to break much on policy or idea grounds. Sanders’ newness to the party and his Socialist tag were concerns on one side; fatigue, dynastic and trust issues linked to Clinton were problems cited on the other. Those disabilities were mentioned more than the assets the two candidates bring, which may have something to do simply with being a Democrat in blood-red Idaho.

There’s not much new in any of this for a close watcher of the national political contest, which seems to be tightening and becoming ever more competitive, and is getting ever more closely parsed. If Sanders does well in Nevada (an election still in the future as this was written), the nomination battle may become extremely close.

In a carefully-calculated chart labeled “Where Bernie Sanders needs to win,” polling analyst Nate Silver last week isolated states where Sanders and Clinton should, based on polling, demographic and other factors, do relatively well or badly. That chart suggested Sanders ought to do better than average in Idaho, winning in the Gem State by 11 percentage points if Clinton is ahead nationally by 12 points; and Sanders winning Idaho by a blowout 23 points if the two are tied nationally.

At least, that’s what a statistical analysis says. Clinton will have a large chunk of the Idaho Democratic leadership and a party base, and her campaign apparently has had staffers on the ground in Idaho, already at work organizing.

If the race is still competitive a month from now, which looks at least possible, Idaho really could become a Democratic battleground.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus