Back during the campaign season of 2010, I sat down for coffee with a candidate who had no better than a very long shot of winning. And he didn’t win.
Steve Berch, who was a long-time manager at the Hewlett-Packard plant in west Boise, was running for an Idaho House seat in what was then District 14, in the Eagle/West Boise part of Ada County. He was doing so as a Democrat, in an area that was and is blood red Republican. Only once in the previous decade had any Republican candidate for any of its three seats failed to top 65 percent of the vote (and even that one exception candidate was easily elected). Berch had set himself an extraordinarily difficult task.
He mapped it all out with the microscopic attention to detail you’d expect of an experienced H-P planner, and backed that with exhaustive work, raising plenty of money and building an organization, but centered around his personal door-knocking and hand-shaking. In all it was an effort that must have matched or exceeded the campaign work of any other candidate in the state.
His reward was 32 percent of the vote. About the same as if he’d put his name on the ballot and then done nothing.
That experience would have been enough for most candidates. But then one day Berch called to tell me he was running again. He wasn’t able to run in the same district, because of the shifting lines of reapportionment: Now he lived and would run in the new district 15, and he outlined his plan for doubling down, doing even more, planning and executing even more intensively.
This time, running against a different Republican, he pulled 46.9 percent of the vote. More than respectable for a still-Republican district, but nonetheless a clear loss.
Undeterred, unbowed, Berch (who in 2013 did win a nonpartisan election to the Boise Auditorium District board) came back for 2014, running in the same district but for the other House seat, one held by Republican Lynn Luker. He once again organized his effort intensively, figuring this time he could do a little better.
He did, a little: 48.4 percent of the vote.
Still, after three losing races for the same office in the same area, nearly all candidates I know would have thrown in the towel. Not Berch. He buckled down and steeled himself in 2016 for a rematch with Luker. He did it all over again.
The result: 49.2 percent of the vote.
The fates, or God, or something, seemed almost to be toying with him. Four losing races, albeit that there was a little progress each time, but . . . would you have tried again? Would I? Probably not.
But there was Berch yet again this year, back on the ballot, facing Luker for a third time, campaigning at least as ferociously as he had four times before.
The result this week?
He won, with 54.5 percent of the vote, on his fifth try.
You could put Berch’s picture next to “persistence” in the dictionary and not be far wrong. But in winning this year, in a hitherto impregnable Republican area, he did more. Not coincidentally, the other Democratic House candidate in the district, Jake Ellis, also won (by a smaller margin), and the candidate for Senate came so close to winning (by six votes) that his election results will go to a recount. Now, this suburban Boise district, a key to Democratic hopes for expanding their voter base, may be flipping.
That kind of change doesn’t happen in a day, or with a single race. It doesn’t always take five straight elections, each one run at full speed, to break through. But sometimes it does take persistence.