The Idaho state Republicans have opened several local field offices, evidently for the duration of the campaign season, in Lewiston, Moscow and Hailey, and according to reports, another is planned in west Boise.
The latter is only a few miles away from state party headquarters in downtown Boise. These new offices do have something in common: They are located in most of those few places in Idaho where competitive legislative races are underway. (The Democrats may be setting up shop a little more informally.)
Not much of Idaho is really up for grabs in this year’s election, partly because most districts in Idaho are too partisan-lopsided to allow for close races; but there are a few. It's also possible some other races could start to spark. Only about 80 days are left, but even in Idaho the unpredictable can happen.
Closest thing to ground zero for serious competition right now, again in this cycle as before, is district 15, where the two House Republican incumbents, Lynn Luker and Patrick McDonald, are being challenged heavily by Democrats Steve Berch – his third hard-charging run in this district – and Jake Ellis, both raising and spending money comparable to the incumbents. Up to now, Republicans have won every time out in this west Boise district, but the margins have shrunk, and the outcome of these races is hard to predict.
The districts based around Moscow and Lewiston have been among the most competitive in recent years, and two years ago the House Democratic leader, John Rusche, won re-election at Lewiston by 50 votes. No one is taking any votes for granted in these places – Districts 5 and 6. While the Senate seats here do look set for incumbent re-elections, the four House races all show signs of being competitive.
The unusual spot for a Republican local office is Hailey, the Blaine County seat which is almost as solidly Democratic as any community in Idaho – and taken together with Ketchum, maybe more than any. The legislative delegation from this area has been mostly Democratic for a generation.
But while the district includes the Democratic Wood River Valley it also includes more Republican territory reaching out to Shoshone, Fairfield, Gooding and Wendell, and the Democratic advantage is not enormous. One of the House seats is now occupied by Republican Steve Miller, and the other, held for a dozen years by Democrat Donna Pence, is now (with her retirement) open. Democrat Sally Toone of Gooding seems reasonably well positioned to keep the seat blue (Pence is her campaign manager), but Republicans seem to be taking seriously the opportunity an open seat is giving them, and Alex Sutter, a businessman at Richfield, may be a strong prospect.
These are not the only significant legislative races in Idaho this year, of course. Sometimes political explosions come out of nowhere, as in last week’s instance of state Senator Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, and Representative Christy Perry, R-Nampa, after news media reports that the two married legislators had an affair. Both are on the ballot in November and, partly because both live in solidly Republican districts, seemed to be headed toward re-election. Now their races have become harder to measure.
This doesn’t look like an especially competitive year, and the roster of Idaho legislative candidates hasn’t produced a large list of fascinating candidates. But sometimes races take on interest when something new happens, and candidates look more interesting in hindsight, when you see what they’ve accomplished.
We’re heading into the home stretch.