You can tell campaign season is kicking in by the flurry of data points arriving. Here are two sets from the forthcoming Idaho campaigns - one that might be over-rated in importance, and one under-rated.
First up is the latest poll, covering the races in Idaho’s two U.S. House districts, from Dan Jones & Associates. Those polls have been the subject of criticism from some Idaho political people, but they’re among the few regularly conducted in Idaho, so we’ll put that aside for the moment and just look at their bottom lines. They show these levels of support: In the first district, Republican Russ Fulcher at 35 percent and Democrat Christina McNeil 27 percent, and in the second district Republican (incumbent) Mike Simpson at 59 percent, with Democrat Aaron Swisher at 23 percent.
One way to look at this would be big news: If the margins between the candidates in the second district (more than two to one) is about right, maybe that indicates a much closer race than expected in the first district, where polling is showing the two candidates running tightly. There might be some temptation to attribute some of this to a Democratic year and an appealing female candidate (who did unusually well in the primary), and possibly those are factors to consider. A little.
The problem is that the races in the districts aren’t really comparable. Simpson, representative in the Idaho 2nd for coming up on 20 years, is about as well known locally as a member of Congress could be. Fulcher has been on the ballot for major office twice, but only in primary elections. He isn’t nearly as well known in the first district as Simpson is in the second. That will change somewhat in the ramp-up to election day, and - bearing in mind that he’s run a capable and uncontroversial campaign so far - you’ll likely see his numbers rise significantly over the next couple of months, as Republicans come home.
If you assume the Jones numbers are an accurate snapshot of recent weeks, that doesn’t mean the end results will look the same way they do now. The dynamic is fluid. The percentages will change.
Item two is an endorsement from a seemingly off-the-wall source that could prove important.
Endorsements in political campaigns usually don’t matter much. Many of them are mildly helpful just by way of showing the person or group involved isn’t opposed to the endorsee. Rarely do they actually change people’s minds or cause them to look at an issue or person in a different way.
Here’s one that could be an exception to the rule.
The Idaho Sheriffs’ Association has voted to endorse Proposition 2, the measure that would expand Medicaid access in Idaho. Chris Goetz, the sheriff in Clearwater County Sheriff and chair of the group’s government affairs group, remarked that “The vote for this wasn’t even close. Sheriffs voted overwhelmingly to support Proposition 2 to save taxpayers money, to keep people out of the jails, and to keep people out of the emergency room. By expanding coverage to low-income people with health issues or mental health issues, they’re more likely to contribute to society and less likely to end up back in the system.”
The ISA endorsement comes not from one of the “usual suspects” - people and groups you might expect to be supportive - but from a group that usually wouldn’t be anticipated to weigh in at all. The reasons they give for doing so, relating to public safety, could cause a number of Idahoans to think about Medicaid expansion in a different way than they have in the past.
Remember too that 40 out of the 44 Idaho sheriffs are elected Republicans. This is no gaggle of liberal activists, and no one is likely to mistake them as such. And they’re spread all over the state, not concentrated in the urban centers where most of the expansion support likely has been focused up to now.
If the vote winds up being close, this one might be an actual game-changer.