Will Idaho Democrats get a seriously contested race for the gubernatorial nomination this year?
The apparent answer is yes …
The party often has had contested primaries, in the strict sense of more than one person on the ballot. But the last time a Democrat won the nomination for governor with less than an outright landslide was 20 years ago (Robert Huntley, with 54.3%), though even that was a runaway win in a four-person field. The last close contest for the party’s Democratic nomination for governor was in 1970, when Cecil Andrus won over Vern Ravenscroft, with a plurality of the vote.
Could the contest this year between A.J. Balukoff and Paulette Jordan come close?
Balukoff has some major advantages which might lead him to a decisive win. Democratic voters know him from having run statewide for the same office four years ago so he is positioned to pick up from where he left off in organizing and contacts, and an already-prepared message. And, of course, money; he has a good deal of that, and demonstrated last time he’s quite willing to spend it. He has also been very civically active, on the Boise School Board and elsewhere.
In 2014 he seemed to display ambiguity about just how much of a Democrat he was (in common with the Democratic governor nominee before him, Keith Allred), but appears more aligned with the party now. On the other hand, some Republicans and some Democrats each point out that as a Boise business community kind of guy, he has been close to the Boise business Republican community; current Republican governor candidate Tommy Ahlquist donated $5,000 to Balukoff four years ago, as many in both parties well remember.
That gets into the internal Democratic argument against him: That he might seem more like another (failed) attempt to appeal to Republicans, instead of someone who might excite Democrats.
The idea of exciting that Democratic base, modest as it might be in Idaho, is a lot of what undergirds Paulette Jordan’s bid. Jordan is a now-former state representative, the last legislator (at this writing) elected in Idaho between Boise and the Canada border. She has presence (and by many accounts, some charisma), a history of actually being elected as a Democrat (in highly contested elections), legislative background (meaning experience in state government) and a life story that can hook many people’s attention. She is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and has won election to the tribal council.
Some party people, though, have questions about her preparation for the candidacy and the job. Her accomplishment report card as a legislator gets mixed marks depending on who you talk to. There was the confusion last legislative session, for example, about whether she would resign or not, and seeming lack of think-through about the implications of quitting or staying.
Her core stances on state issues resemble Balukoff’s, but the approach and tone is different. Some politics watchers suggest that many 2016 Bernie Sanders supporters may break for Jordan, hearing from her something closer to their sensibility. Sanders did well in the Idaho caucuses in 2016, though that’s a smaller group, and a different type of voter, than primary election voters.
Again, how many voters will the Democratic primary attract next month, when so many hot races are underway on the Republican side? If the number is small, who does that help? You can argue either way.
The answers may come down to what Democrats are looking for: A standard-bearer to charge with their message, or a more centrist-appealing candidate who might pick up the pieces if the Republican primary end game goes sour.
Look in the answer to that question for the likely result of the Democratic primary. Which might indeed be closely contested.