Idahoans may soon find out the answer to an old joke question: what if they held an election and no one came?
In less than two months for all practical purposes Idaho’s next governor and its next member of Congress from the First District will be the winner of the May 15th Republican primary.
Does anyone care? In 50 years of observing Idaho politics I’ve never seen a less interested, not-paying-attention Idaho electorate. Maybe the campaigns have more visibility in southern Idaho, as all the campaigns are eschewing buying television out of the expensive Spokane market. The return on investment calculus simply says its too much to pay to reach what is seen as less than 10% of the probable GOP voters.
Quick. Tell me three major difference that separate the three major Republican gubernatorial candidates - Tommie Ahlquist, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, and Congressman Raul Labrador - from each other? Can’t do it, can you?
A low interest, low turnout vote probably favors Labrador whose hard right conservative base n theory will be the most motivated to vote.
However, the winner will be the one that has the best ground game - the one who has identified the most likely voters, has phone banks set up to call voters, can provide rides to the polls, has a top notch absentee and vote by mail operation, and has a direct mail program sending three or four pieces to all Republican households.
One suspects that if it comes down to who has the best ground game that will favor Brad Little in the governor’s race and in the congressional race will favor former attorney general David Leroy. The reason is they are more familiar to the state’s voters having run state-wide and have built a cadre of solid supporters - people who know them and more importantly like them.
An election that has attracted hardly any interest clearly will not be a change election, but will be a maintain the status quo. That too favors Little and Leroy.
Rest assured both races will be decided by the voters of two counties - Ada and Canyon, which between them hold 40% of the voters. Some pundits think this tilts the congressional race towards former state senator Russ Fulcher from Canyon County, but there is no evidence to support that. With seven R’s the winner may have only 20% of the vote and such races are impossible to predict.
Labrador released his first tv ad this past week, the last of the three major GOP candidates to do so. Interestingly, he repeatedly tries to reassure his base he is the only true “consistent conservative” in the race though Idaho voters grasp that all three are conservatives.
Labrador though is probably badly out of step on many of the issues with most Idahoans. His code talk about focusing more on educational performance than funding is just a slick way of saying he will slash educational funding despite public wishes to the contrary. It’s the only way he can reach his touted tax reduction plan calling for capping sales, property and income tax at a uniform 5%.
The guess here is that despite a low turnout many traditional conservative to moderate R’s will turn out and that most independents will vote in the Republican primary as well. All of this should see Little nose by Labrador with Ahlquist running third.
In most years one would think Ahlquist’s enthusiasm and charisma as well as being the fresh face would catch on. That doe not appear to be the case though and most observers won’t be surprised by Ahlquist finishing third.
The congressional race still appears to favor Leroy who has done an excellent job on the stunp demonstrating his mastery of the issues and underscoring his “constitutional conservative” views. His adroit dismissal of age questions has faded as he demonstrates vigor and with humor dismisses such questions.
A word about the Democratic gubernatorial primary featuring the party’s 2014 candidate, millionaire businessman and long-time Boise school board member A.J. Balukoff and former State Representative Paulette Jordan from Plummer. The first take was that she could actually win the nomination given the thin slice of liberal “wine and cheese” D’s in Idaho who nonetheless can deliver in the smallish Democratic primary.
Any chance she might have had though may have become foregone given her recent endorsement of gun registration for all firearms, and not prospectively but retroactively. There are enough D’s in Idaho who hunt who will dismiss her out of hand for taking such a position.
We’ll know more on May 16th when we will learn who our next governor will be and the new First District congressman. Don’t blink though or it may just escape notice.