Not so many weeks ago, more than a few Idaho Democrats and democratic sympathizers, observing the developing contested primary for governor within their party, were heard to wonder: How many Democrats will be left to vote in it?
The logic went like this: The race for governor likely would be settled in the Republican primary, and among Democrats there was a clear preference among the major GOP candidates: Lieutenant Governor Brad Little was considered much the most acceptable, and Representative Raul Labrador the worst option. (The third major candidate, Tommy Ahlquist, got less visceral reactions.) So quite a few Idaho Democrats, at least anecdotally, said they would cross over and vote for Little. Presumably that would leave, among other things, a smaller Democratic contingent to decide their own party’s race between second-time candidate A.J. Balukoff and former legislator Paulette Jordan.
Not a few Republicans also thought the scenario might play out that way.
So how did it work out?
The shift of Democratic voters across the aisle to the Republican side is hard to measure. We can’t know for sure how many there were. The number of voters (that is, ballots cast) in the Republican contest for governor was up compared to 2014 by about 25 percent; if you factor in population growth and the greater interest in a race with three major candidates, that’s not a tremendous difference. Were there enough Democratic crossovers to give Little his 9,000-or-so vote win over Labrador? Best guess is that those voters didn’t account for all of it, maybe only half or less. The presence of Ahlquist in the race may have been a larger factor.
Bear in mind that Little received 72,518 votes, which is less than his close ally and current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter received in 2014 (79,779 votes). His vote could be accounted for if just most of the Otter voters stuck with him (as they most logically would have), allowing for some falloff.
One reason for thinking so is in looking at the vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Only about a third as many people voted on the Democratic side as on the Republican, but four years ago the difference was six to one, not three to one. Turnout in the Democratic primary increased by about 150 percent, a massive increase especially when bearing in mind the much higher-visibility Republican campaign.
Across the board, Democratic primary votes increased far more from 2014 than did the Republican (though theirs grew too). Scan down through the other major office races and though the state legislative primaries, and the same holds true. Of course, most people once stuck with one or the other party’s ballot will continue to vote for a number of offices
But the Democratic ballot increase really is remarkable. The number of votes cast in the Democratic primary for governor is the largest ever cast in that party for that office. What was about 25,000 Democratic primary voters (for governor) in 2014 grew by about 40,000 this year.
Was it a coincidence that the recently-completed petitions for the Medicaid initiative activated similar numbers of voters? Might that have helped generate some of the participation?
On Tuesday, voters in Georgia held their primary election, and Democrats there chose (in a hot contest) a nominee for governor who among other things has based the strategy of her campaign not on the goal of reaching out to Republican and centrist voters, but of activating what she maintains is a large corps of non-voters who (she figures) would vote mostly Democratic if they participate.
How many of them actually are out there, or whether they can with certainty be brought into the voting base, no one yet knows for sure.
But the numbers in the week-old Idaho primary election suggest that significant numbers of them actually are out there. Maybe not enough to win general elections. But significant nonetheless.