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A political moment


If for a moment you’d like to think about something other than Covid-19, try this: The subject I’d ordinarily address around now in an even-numbered year, which is filings for Idaho office by candidates.

And really, it’ll only take a few minutes.

The Idaho filings lay out the contours of the election year in the state. We get to see, in them, where the major races are and how many contests are likely to emerge.

The general election at the top of the ballot, for U.S. senator, doesn’t look tough for the incumbent, Republican Jim Risch. There is nonetheless a contested primary between two Democrats who both have run for higher office before, Jim Vandermaas, who two years ago ran (unsuccessfully) in the Democratic primary for the 1st District U.S. House, and Paulette Jordan, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for governor. Jordan is much better known, while Vandermaas is getting some interesting endorsements. It may be competitive.

There are Democratic primaries for both of Idaho’s House seats, where the Republican incumbents also have big advantages. But the scope and shift of the contests may say something about what the Idaho electorate is looking for.

Considering races for the Idaho Legislature involves looking at contests for 105 seats, so the best way to approach them is statistically.

First – zero surprise here – Republicans start with a massive advantage. In fact, it’s more than that. If you assume that no minor party candidate will be elected to the legislature this year – not a bad bet, since none have in more than 80 years – and that no write-ins win, then by failing to field a candidate for 20 of the 35 Idaho Senate seats, Democrats already have ceded control of that chamber.

Democrats have a larger percentage of candidates for House seats, but still left open 33 of them for Republicans, meaning the GOP’s odds of retaining control can be reasonably supposed just from looking at the candidate filings. The filings tell us more generally that the next legislature will look a lot like the current one, and the one before that, and the one before that …

Which does not mean all those Republicans have what’s called a free ride – de facto re-election because only one candidate filed. Many Republican incumbents face contested primaries without later facing a Democrat, and several open seats will be fought over by just Republicans (or, at least, without any Democrats in the mix).

There are 14 completely unopposed candidates running for the Idaho Senate – meaning they account for nearly half of the seats – and 21 for seats in the Idaho House.

There’s some interest here, though, in that a significant number of those unopposeds are Democrats, two among the senators and six among the House contenders. That seems like a higher number of Democrats unopposed than in most recent elections, and could suggest a little further hardening of deep blue territories to match with some of the larger dark red regions.

The closest to a real attention grabber for me was the candidacy of a newcomer, Rick Just, a well-known former Department of Parks and Recreation employee and author of a number of Idaho history books. (Disclosure: I got some help from him last year when I was working on an Idaho history book of my own.) Just’s background is only part of the reason for the interest. He’s running in District 15, a long-time Republican area where Democrats in 2018 flipped two House seats and came recount-close to doing the same with the Senate seat. That senator who came close to losing last time, Fred Martin, is running again this year. Should be a hot contest.

The Senate seat in District 5 (the Moscow area, featuring another rematch) will also be strongly contested, as well a scattering of House seats. But overall, this looks like a quiet election cycle on the Idaho level.

In contrast, of course, with the national.

Okay. You can go back to Covid-19 now.

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