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What Idaho should watch for

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It’s been a couple of years in the buildup, and Tuesday night gives us the payoff – for good or ill. Here’s some of what I’ll be watching for on election night from an Idaho perspective.

1. On the presidential level, Idaho will probably slip easily into the Donald Trump column. What I’ll be watching more closely is the vote percentage Evan McMullin, the independent from Utah, gets. He has been running strong in Utah, and might do well in eastern Idaho. His numbers will be worth parsing.

2. The ballot issue HJR 5 (on legislative review of executive branch regulations) has split Idaho’s governing community, with legislators (mostly) and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little in favor, and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden opposed. Voters rejected a similar proposal two years ago, and the guess here is that they will do so again. But the lines of support and opposition will be something to see.

3. Idaho has only a few competitive legislative races this year, but several of those which do look to be close will merit close inspection.

In District 1, in the northern Panhandle, watch to see whether constituents will back Republican Heather Scott, aptly described by columnist Chuck Malloy as “one of the stars of the Redoubt movement”, or challenging Democrat Kate McAlister. Some of Scott’s supporters have been accused of harassing the opposition. (She has disavowed any knowledge.) Scott has become a statewide figure, and her win or loss will be widely noted, rightly so because it will say a lot about the character of the northern Idaho panhandle.

In District 6, House Democratic leader Jon Rusche of Lewiston, whose win two years ago was by a hairline, is being hard-pressed by Republican Mike Kingsley; billboards linking Rusche and Hillary Clinton have popped up around town. For a couple of decades Lewiston has been a closely competitive ground between the parties; a Rusche loss could indicate it is moving into a clear Republican tilt.

In west Boise’s District 15, Democrat Steve Berch is on the verge of defeating veteran Republican Representative Lynn Luker. This is Berch’s fourth election in a row running in the west/west-of Boise area. He took 32.2% of the vote in 2010, then 46.9% in 2012 and in 2014 he got 48.4%. Does he cross the line this year? If he does, he may open the door for Democrats not just within Boise city, but in some of its suburbs.

And in Twin Falls’ District 24, two hot races are said to be unusually close, as Republican Senator Lee Heider is pressed by Democrat Deborah Silver and Republican Representative Steve Hartgen by Catherine Talkington. A Democratic win in either race would be a breakthrough for Democrats who haven’t elected one of their own to the legislature here in decades. Democrats for a couple of decades have been offering the idea of winning elections in central Twin Falls; will this be the year?

4. The contested Supreme Court features two candidates with distinctly different backgrounds and approaches, though both have Republican backgrounds. State Senator Curt McKenzie has backing from a number of fellow legislators and lobbies, and he seems the more ideologically-oriented of the two. Attorney Robyn Brody got much higher markers in a state bar survey and has broadly scattered support. The race is considered competitive.

A lot of attention will go to the national maps on Tuesday, but don’t neglect those in Idaho. They’ll have plenty to say about the state, too.

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