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The meh primary

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Among the analyses following last week’s primary election (can’t really say “May primary,” this time) was one contending that the results likely will translate to a “more conservative” state House.

Maybe, though what exactly that would translate to is hard to say. I’d be more inclined to address that concept if someone can come up with a coherent and broadly acceptable definition of “conservatism,” either generally or Idaho-specific, circa 2020.

That question aside, did the May primary election in Idaho demonstrate much of anything at all?

Probably, without too far a reach, we can find some odds and ends. (Before hitting the numbers, a quick word about the process: absentee/mail election overall worked pretty well in Idaho. That shouldn’t go unnoted.)

You can, for example, use the election’s numbers to demonstrate just how dominant Idaho Republicans still are. That comes as a shock, I know, but the numbers bear it out. More than twice as many people voted for the Republican tickets (you see the numbers most clearly at the top of the ballot) as did in the Democratic. That’s influenced to some extent, no doubt, by the larger number of contests (and seriously-contested contests) among Republicans at the legislative and courthouse levels; the few higher offices on the ballot did see actual contests on both sides, lopsided though most of the results were. And some people voting in those Republican races weren’t Republicans, though the crossover impact – often overestimated anyway – probably was muted this time.

Still, the numbers do establish some of the ongoing difficulty Democrats have statewide; how great the partisan gap is outside a handful of spots around the state. It’s worth pointing out that in places where Democrats generally do win – across the city of Boise, for example – their primary ballot numbers do outpace Republicans. So some correlation between primary participation and general election results does seem to exist, and it seems less elastic than tended to be the case several decades ago.

You can also draw a few more current conclusions too, though they won’t bear a lot of weight.

Concerns about the statewide pandemic shutdowns became an issue in several races, mainly at the legislative and county level, around the state. How did that go? Well, in a Twin Falls County commissioner primary race, incumbent Brent Reinke supported Governor Brad Little’s shelter-in-place orders, while challenger David Hansen strongly opposed them. Reinke prevailed about 2-1. That result could relate to Reinke’s overall general popularity, and usually being an incumbent doesn’t hurt. But it also seems to suggest the shutdown protests haven’t gained a lot of traction.

You might counter that with the numbers in the House B seat in District 32, where incumbent Chad Christensen, who was anti-shutdown, prevailed over his challenger, Bonneville County Commissioner Dave Radford, a backer of the governor, by about 60 percent to 40 percent. But that may have been a more complex race; Christensen is a high-profile and highly controversial legislator, and a whole batch of issues may have played into the results there.

One of the results most worth parsing was a case of an incumbent narrowly losing to a challenger: Idaho Falls Representative Bryan Zollinger (48.6 percent) losing to Marco Erickson (51.4 percent). The big issue there may have been medical debt collection; Zollinger has been in that business, and he was directly in opposition to, among others, the area’s top business leader, Frank VanderSloot, who has backed legislation and other efforts to help medical debtors. That issue almost had to have been a big factor, but the arguments and cross-currents of support were too complex for simple conclusions.

Zollinger was not the only incumbent to lose – there were a couple of others in eastern Idaho who lost to ideological activists and one in Canyon County who lost his legislative seat after recent election to city office – but incumbents overwhelmingly won; the number of oysters was not large. There were hardly any results you could seriously count as surprising.

The voters in Idaho did not look to be in much of a revolutionary mood. It seemed more like a meh election.
 

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