In conversations with a range of politically-interested Idahoans this week, I heard more often than anything else comments about The Commercial.
I should say that I haven’t seen it, and haven’t been able to find it online. I’m told its source is not the Tommy Ahlquist campaign for Idaho governor, but rather an independent committee in support of him. It is said to be running mostly on cable television, and is described (maybe the key thing about it is how it is described) like this:
Much of the ad shows Ahlquist’s two main opponents for the Republican nomination, Representative Raul Labrador and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, on a split screen. It describes each of them (speaking generally here) as career politicians, or at least making the point that both have been in elective office a number of years. It attaches to each complaints about various policy decisions (such as taxes), suggesting those as evidence of inadequate conservatism. Little and Labrador, then, are meant to be considered as part of a failed status quo, and Ahlquist the fresh broom seeking to sweep clean. (Ahlquist apparently does not appear in the commercial.)
(photo/Ahlquist, left, and Little; by Mark Mendiola)
Okay. As a political tactic, something like that makes sense, and it may be effective. It probably is effective, in fact, since it seems to be generating a lot of discussion. (Much of the discussion I happened to hear wasn’t positive, exactly, but that’s beside the point.)
Call it another bolt of uncertainty in a year-long race for the nomination that looks no more settled today than it did six months ago.
Asking for opinions about who is likely to win, the most common response I get is, “Labrador.” The main argument for that is his substantial and highly loyal voter base, which is surely there. But there’s a question about exactly how large the base is, how far around the state it extends, and whether the mainstream Republican segment exemplified by Little might still be large enough to prevail. After a minute’s reflection, the amended reply tends to be, “You know, I really don’t know who’s likely to win.”
On Monday, the pollster Dan Jones and Associates released a poll showing the three candidates bunched closely together - not much outside the margin of error - with a still-large percentage reported as undecided. (Yes, yes: Some questions have been raised about the Jones polls, but we don’t have much other public polling available.) It’s a reasonable match to what Jones has reported before, but, especially given the large number of undecideds, doesn’t on its own give much support to any particular prediction.
One other thought was the suggestion that a low voter turnout probably would help Labrador most, while a high turnout might help Little. That sounds about correct, roughly. The turnout numbers eventually will be worth parsing, but it’s hard to know now what they’ll look like. They might trend high because of the large number of contested primaries at the top of the ballot. Or, in common with a number of other states, Republican turnout may be a little down in this year compared to four or eight years ago. Hard to know.
And then there’s The Commercial, which might shift some attitudes among voters, maybe enough to affect an outcome in a close race. But in what direction?
A year of campaigning, and we still wind up remarkably close to where we all started ...