If I were managing the campaign of one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates - or of those in the first congressional district - I’d be heavily concerned about what the polls aren’t showing.
Which is to say, the people who haven’t yet decided.
Start with how long these campaigns have been going on already: A long time.
Lieutenant Governor Brad Little announced a year and a half ago, in June 2016. Developer Tommy Ahlquist announced in February of this year - about 10 months ago. Representative Raul Labrador announced in May, about half a year ago, but he was widely thought likely to run well before that, and long considered kind of a candidate-in-waiting alongside the others.
Over most of this year, the candidates have been campaigning as if election day were two weeks away. Between town meetings, candidate forums, advertising and more, this is a lot like the kind of campaigning you’d expect to see just before the season is winding up (instead of still half a year yet to go). And not only that: They have had the field to themselves. These candidates haven’t had to compete with attention for candidates for president or Congress. All the political oxygen has gone to them.
Point being, these candidates have had an ideal opportunity to soak up as much support as possible in these last few months. If politically-interested Idahoans haven’t made up their minds about them by now … well, just what are they waiting for?
That’s the leadup to the new poll from Idaho Politics Weekly (of Zions Bank) which shows Little getting 21 percent support, Labrador 17 percent and Ahlquist 14 percent. Those numbers taken by themselves simply indicate a competitive race. But all three are far behind the top-runner: Don’t Know, which pulls 36 percent support.
If I were campaign manager for any of these candidates, I’d be devoting a lot of thought to answering the question of what exactly these people need to know to let loose of their support.
The situation in the first congressional district, where Labrador is leaving an open seat and room for a pile of candidates, is a little different but similar enough to draw some related conclusions.
There, former Lieutenant Governor David Leroy announced in May (about as soon as Labrador shifted to the governor’s race), and former legislator Russell Fulcher entered the next month, but after having spent the months since August 2016 running for governor. Legislator Luke Malek joined the contest in August, and others have been in for a while too. Idahoans certainly have had plenty of opportunity by now, in December, to figure out who these guys are.
In a mid-October poll (also from Idaho Politics Weekly), though, few had. The number broke at 17 percent for Leroy, nine percent for Fulcher and seven percent for Malek - but that meant more than two-thirds were undecided. (Could that have influenced the recent entry of Canyon County legislator Christy Perry?)
What does this mass of undecideds translate to? Might it be as simple as: “Ain’t time yet to vote, so don’t bother me”? Unexcitement about the candidates? Actual lack of needed information?
That last doesn’t seem likely. But figuring out the answer to who wins the primary may co0me out of figuring out the right cause of all those undecideds.