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To the test

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Most of what you see in political party platforms and resolutions is more or less than you’d expect to see. There’s a good reason most of what they have to say generates few headlines.

Close watchers could pick out a little more than that this year from the state party conventions a week ago at Pocatello (the Republicans) and Caldwell (the Democrats).

For the Democrats, the point is of a party statement that feels a little more assertive than it has most years (a call for legalizing cannabis, including recreational, for example). You can imagine the climate of 2018 and the presidential contest of 2016 contributing to that.

For the Republicans, a couple of other types of items jumped out.

One was a proposal to make city offices partisan: Candidates for mayor and council would not, as they now do, run outside the party structure, but would carry R and D labels.

The question of what offices should be partisan has been visited periodically in Idaho; many may not know that generations ago, elected judges ran on party slates in Idaho. County officials still do, of course, though how a Republican or Democrat would differently deal with the work of a county assessor or (is there a novel in this one?) a coroner, is hard to fathom.

Idaho has 200 cities, the bulk of them small enough that the people there know the candidates quite well and have no need know party membership for a voting guideline. In the larger cities like Boise, where voting populations have in many cases gotten more competitive on a partisan level or even trend Democratic, Republicans might be wary of what they ask for.

Gold medal for the most illuminating item to hit either convention however was the Republican proposal concerning employment of people not legally in the country. The idea was to punish businesses employing undocumented workers, a clear extension of the Trump Administration immigration and deportation approach.

This one is based on the real-world point that people who come to the country illegally mostly are doing it for money -- to find work -- and that would be impossible if employers weren’t offering it to them. One northern Idaho supporter of the proposal (a Republican Party leader in the Panhandle) was quoted, "If your business depends on illegal practices then I call that organized crime."

Considering Idaho Republican support of the Trump Administration, and presumably of its immigration policies, this would sound like close to a slam dunk. Except . . . what that last quote did was to describe a large portion of Idaho agriculture and food producers, which is to say a large share of Idaho’s economy, as “organized crime,” and potentially represented a dagger at those industries’ employment heart. The Idaho Republican convention certainly couldn’t have that, either.

Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

In this case, the irresistible object, the ag community, prevailed, mostly. The resolution proposal lost in committee and on the floor, though its backers demonstrated substantial support and clear determination.

Maybe these party conventions really can generate news sometimes.
 

All the people

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On average, Idaho legislators, each representing one of 35 districts in a state of about 1.7 million people, have about 49,000 constituents. No legislator, however conscientious, can know them all.

In practice, though, they - and not just legislators but most public officials - only really know a thin slice of their constituents. Some weeks ago I helped canvass - drop off campaign information - several neighborhoods for a local ballot issue in my small town of 2,000 people. Many of those people felt their city hall was remote from them, distant and out of touch. This isn’t physical distance: Many of them lived within a three-minute walk of the building where council meetings are held.

Elected officials, like most of us, tend to congregate among people we know and who are like us. The less similar to us, the less we are likely to know other people, and the more out of touch we are. State legislators, to take one example, know their friends and other social connections, their political base, sometimes their adversaries and activists of various types. But most people in their districts, most of the 49,000 or so, are outside those orbits.

And some are well outside.

On occasion an elected official tries to break through that bubble. One who did recently was state Representative Mark Nye of Pocatello, and he wrote about the experience.

His account started with a visit to the Pocatello community action center, a place he had been involved in setting up years ago, and which offers help to the homeless - as it can. Its capacities are limited, and the needs tend to far outdistance them.

That observation prompted Nye to explore further - to look into the world of the homeless in Pocatello.

“I learned where the homeless can get a hot meal,” he wrote. “One place is a hall near Poky High. I saw poor people lined up there waiting for the doors to open. I watched and wondered where they came from and how this could be happening in our city. I volunteered to wash dishes and watch. I did this for a couple of weeks, but this wasn’t enough. Sixty-eight people were needing a meal and there were some children. One women was tall, with stringy hair, wild eyes and skinny like a stick. Her clothes were a mess and she wasn’t the only one like this. It was cold outside and some had coats — ratty coats. Some had no coats.”

He explored beyond that, taking a place in the group. “The next week, I put on my old Levi’s, a black T-shirt and old baseball cap and drove down to the place. I hid my car blocks away and went to the front door early to wait. About 18 people were already there. They were standing around, some on the stairs, some on the curb, some alone and in small groups. There was little talk. I was afraid what they might do to me if I was recognized. But I had learned the walk. The walk was a slow shuffle, with head bent down and no eye contact. We waited for the door to open. I felt conspicuous but no one was watching. I was just another one standing there.”

Nye developed several observations out of all this, but one of the most significant is also one of the most obvious: These people are not numbers, not statistics, and not even just people, but also constituents. Nye recognized that he held a responsibility to them in the same way he does to the people he ordinarily meets and works with, the people who show up at the Statehouse as lobbyists or that he meets at a political gathering.

It’s an important point. The 49,000 include not only friends and family, supporters and activists and even opponents. They also include a lot of people many of us actually try not to see. It takes some effort to see them. But that’s what being a public servant should entail.
 

Another fork in the road?

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The history is broadly familiar, but it bears repeating for consideration now. It’s worth considering even in Idaho.

In 1994, Republican Pete Wilson was running for re-election as California governor in tough conditions: His approval rating was low, and he was running behind the challenging Democrat. During the campaign, he jumped onto a ballot initiative, Proposition 187, and greatly ramped up its visibility. At a time when illegal immigration was getting more attention in California, Prop 187 banned people in the country illegally from using public schools, non-emergency health care and various other services. The initiative gained steam and passed, and Wilson was re-elected (in a Republican wave year, it should be noted).

It was the very picture of a Pyrrhic victory. 187 was challenged in court and killed off legally and politically. But that was only the beginning. It enraged California’s large and growing Latino population, and many other people besides. Republicans were linked to the measure, and starting in the late 90s they began losing elections by larger and larger margins. California’s roster of elected officials, dominated by Republicans a generation and more ago, now is overwhelmingly Democratic, nearly as Democratic as Idaho is Republican, and the trigger of Prop 187 was the fork in that road turning California blue.

That came to mind last week as the nation watched the heart-rending scenes of family separation on the southern border, sort of reversed in a limited way, after huge national pressure, by President Donald Trump. This too has a political dimension and has caught attention of Americans of all descriptions. But it could have a special impact, as happened a quarter-century ago, on the politics of the Latino vote.

Before Prop 187, the Latino vote in California tended to number below its available population, and it was not overwhelmingly dominated by either of the parties. That changed.

Might it change now in, say, Idaho?

The Latino vote in Idaho long has had a low profile: The vote is there, but the numbers have tended to be smaller than the eligible population would indicate, and there’s not a lot of evidence that either political party has dominated it. There’s also this: The most prominent Latinos to run for office in Idaho have been Republicans. The most recent and successful has been Raul Labrador, elected four times to the U.S. House; his ethnic background has been known and noted but hasn’t become controversial, or an obstacle to winning office or a Republican party nomination. (He recently lost a primary contest for governor, of course, but none of the many analyses I’ve seen of that race have suggested his heritage as a reason for that.)

Still, the Idaho Latino vote in some ways resembles California’s pre-1994.

It’s a smaller portion of the state’s electorate. In a Pew Research Center study in 2014, the eligible Latino voting population was pegged at seven percent; in California it was 28 percent. Any impact of a large and well-organized Latino vote in Idaho necessarily would be much smaller than in the Golden State. Idaho ranks 16th among states for Latino vote eligibility (California is third).

That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be powerful. That voting population is concentrated enough in some places to swing legislative and other seats if well organized.

The Latino population is growing faster than Idaho overall, and an article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review two years ago pointed out, “10 Idaho school districts – and eight Idaho counties, including Boundary County – would have lost population from 2010 to 2014 if not for the growth in their Hispanic populations.” The central Magic Valley is about one-third Latino, and Canyon Court about one-fourth.

Don’t expect Idaho to do any time soon what California did after Prop 187. But don’t be surprised if some smaller-scale changes aren’t in the works nonetheless.
 

The politics of Idaho Medicaid

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The most significant political question of the year in the Gem State may involve not the identity of its next governor or member of Congress but a question of policy - one with implications nationwide.

The political statistics web site FiveThirtyEight looked into it last month with an article headlined this way: “Does Medicaid expansion have a shot in a state as red as Idaho?”

It’s a live question. Many states around the country have expanded Medicaid availability under terms of the Affordable Care Act. (In Idaho, the estimate is that 78,000 people would get health insurance coverage who do not have it now.) Though the proposal has been vigorously pushed in Idaho for a half-dozen years, the legislature has refused to go along. Now, Idaho is one of four states (Utah is another) where activists are trying to use a ballot issue to change the law and expand access. If its advocates have luck there, more efforts may be tried elsewhere.

Ballot status isn’t yet assured in Idaho; elections officials have until July 5 to determine if the petition signatures turned in are enough to meet the tough ballot requirements. This is one of those “don’t count the unhatched chickens” kinds of situations, but the odds at present look good.

So suppose the proposal to expand Medicaid’s reach does hit the ballot: Will it pass?

You can make credible arguments either direction.

There is, after all, a political reason the Idaho Legislature hasn’t touched the proposal: A lot of Idahoans, especially in the Republican base, really hate the Affordable Care Act, and the expansion is a key part of it. A Boise State University survey in December turned up 58.8 percent opposed to the ACA compared to 35.2 percent in favor, though the “strong opposed” sub-category outnumbered the strongly in-favor group by well over two to one. (Nationally, the ACA is more popular than not.)

The question gets much more subtle and complicated when you get to Medicaid specifically, because Medicaid itself seems to be mostly popular, even in Idaho.

So what will Idaho think about expanding Medicaid: Might that idea be popular in Idaho even if the ACA still is not?

FiveThirtyEight, after evaluating all the significant numbers it found, suggested this: “Depends on how you ask them. In December of last year, a Boise State University poll of Idaho adults alerted respondents to the 78,000 low-income people who don’t have health insurance in Idaho, people who mostly fall in the Medicaid gap — too poor to qualify for subsidies on the health insurance marketplaces but too rich to qualify for Medicaid under current state rules. It did so, however, without ever mentioning the word Medicaid. It then asked, ‘Would you favor or oppose the governor and state legislature taking action to provide them with access to quality health care?’- Three-quarters of respondents said they would favor the move.”

And there was this: “In 2015, Dan Jones & Associates asked registered voters, “Do you support or oppose an expansion of federal Medicaid coverage in Idaho?” Sixty-one percent said they supported it. After the Republican-controlled Legislature declined to expand the program in 2016, 64 percent of Idahoans said they disagreed with the decision, including 49 percent of Republicans.”

If the issue is clearly and narrowly described when the campaign nears its end this fall, the odds of passage may be pretty good. If it is cast within a framework of the ACA, and of support for Trump or Obama, the result could be quite different.

As is so often the case, depends on how you define what’s in front of you.
 

Shorter name, larger reach

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The newspaper at Nampa changed its name last week, from the Idaho Press-Tribune to the Idaho Press.

Usually, business name changes like this resonate little with me. This one did, for one small reason a little sad, and another larger reason decidedly cheerful.

A few weeks from now will mark 42 years since I first went to work at a daily newspaper. That happened, in the summer of 1976, at the Caldwell paper, called the News Tribune. Some years earlier it had been a fully independent newspaper. By the time I arrived it was closely linked by ownership and otherwise to the Idaho Free Press at Nampa, where the printing press, most of the business offices and the larger share of the staff at the two papers were located. But it still had its own masthead, its own identity, and a substantial office with news, advertising, circulation and other staff in downtown Caldwell. (My job there was to cover county government, courts, local schools and sundry other areas.)

Tightly tied as it was to Nampa, the local News-Tribune did help give Caldwell a specific local identity, and it had a high profile in the community. Its merger into the larger Nampa operation - into what was re-named the Idaho Press-Tribune - and closure of the Caldwell office, in the early 80s, seemed like a diminishment at Caldwell, where the downtown was struggling. At the same time, the result was a larger unified operation.

Back then, I thought the Nampa and Caldwell papers should make a play for the western part of Ada County, picking up more circulation and expanding news and advertising operations in the fast-growing suburban areas. There wasn’t a lot of interest then, maybe in part because growth in the 80s was mostly slower, and the Idaho Statesman at Boise, with much larger regional staff operations, seemed to have a clear hold on the area.

Bringing us to the changes happening now, signified by the dropping of “Tribune” from the newspaper’s name. That change saddens me a bit, cutting the last tie to the old Caldwell paper.

But it’s also an indicator of greater breadth and more ambition. And that’s an encouraging thing.

The owners of the Nampa newspaper have in recent years swept up local news operations in Meridian, Emmett and Kuna, and have been pressing into the western Ada County area. The paper now offers home delivery across Ada County, which it never did before. It has expanded its news gathering in Boise, most notably hiring the veteran (and excellent) state government reporter Betsy Russell away from the Spokane Spokesman-Review. All of that expansion is in part justified because the Idaho Press’ owners also own the papers in Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Rexburg, so the costs of state-level coverage can be shared.

But the local expansion has some larger significance.

It comes at a time when newspapers all over the country are retracting and retrenching, becoming shadows of their former selves. Here we have a case - rare but not unheard of in these days - of expansion and growth, and more news rather than less for local readers.

This isn’t inevitable. Other newspapers in Idaho are still maintaining strong news operations. Believe it or not, there’s still a demand for news outside Washington and New York. And a need.

But how that need is filled, is shifting.
 

Shifts of market and region

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Forty years ago one of the big ongoing news stories, and one of the big serious issues, facing the Northwest was the impending shortage of energy supply. We just weren’t producing enough electricity, we were told, to satisfy the growth needs of the region.

All sorts of things happened in those years in an attempt to deal with this problem, not least the massive nuclear power building in Washington state (remember the wonderfully-acronymed WPPSS?) that resulted in economic collapse and massive debt.

What never did happen was this: The Northwest never did run out of power.

Idaho, Washington and Oregon have kept on growing, economically and demographically, in the years since, and adequate supply of electric power has never been a significant problem. Neither, for that matter, has cost; juice has been about as inexpensive in the region through these years as it has anywhere in the country.

One of several reasons for that has been the existence, for 80 years so far, of the Bonneville Power Administration. Headquartered at Portland, the BPA has the job of taking the immense amount of electric power generated by the federal dams in the Columbia River system and selling it to customers, mainly regional and local utilities. Idaho utilities get some of this power, and the state benefits more broadly from the way the cheap hydropower has helped keep electric rates low.

Political threats to BPA’s existence have surfaced from time to time - there’s been a rumbling from the Trump Administration most recently - but the most immediate and maybe most intractable threat right now is economic. It comes not from anyone trying to do it in, but from broader conditions.

These are laid out in a fascinating short report by Idaho economist Anthony Jones and activist Linwood Laughy (he was involved in the Highway 12 megaload battle), who with several others began looking into the economic changes surrounding electric power in the Northwest. Their report (you can see it at http://rmecon.com/examples/BonnevillePower%20May%202018.pdf) concluded that BPA could be facing extinction unless something dramatic changes.

They’re not alone in issuing warnings. Elliott Mainzer, BPA’s current administrator, warned in March, “We’ve taken huge hits in the secondary revenues market just like every other hydro provider up here, with cheap gas, low load growth, and the oversupply conditions. It’s been a bloodbath for folks in the wholesale market. I’m not in a panic mode, but I am in a very, very significant sense of urgency mode.”

That concisely lays out some of the issues. Oversupply - of electric power - has become real, as solar, wind and other power sources have become major factors in the Northwest. As supply has grown, prices have fallen. The big drop came around 2008 and 2009, when “the open market price of power dropped from $90 to $25.” It has not much rebounded in the years since. The declining need for additional power already has reduced the use of coal-fired plants in the region.

BPA has been protected somewhat by long-term contracts with many of its utilities, but some of those utilities are agitating for lower prices from other sources, and negotiations are likely to be fierce as contracts come up for renewal. Traditionally, BPA has made money by selling excess power to California, but California also is seeing a massive increase in renewable energy: It is being flooded with additional power as well. Meantime, BPA has a number of costs, from environmental requirements to pension funds to compensation for dam maintenance, that it cannot reduce. It is being squeezed, hard.

That started about a decade ago, and there’s an easy way to measure it. In 2008 BPA had financial reserves of almost $1 billion; now, only about $5 million of that is left, the rest of it gone to pay for costs when income hasn’t kept up.

The Northwest energy world has been turned on its head since those energy-shortage days of 40 years ago. It may look a lot different a decade from now.
 

Where the numbers went

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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.
 

Bill Hall

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Veteran Idaho journalist Bill Hall, for many years editorial page editor of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, died at Lewiston on May 21. I wrote this column (from December 17, 2016) about him, when he opted to end his long-running column in that and other papers. Our sympathies to his family and to his friends, who are legion.

Please pardon the reminiscing, but the time of year encourages it, as did a newspaper column I read a few days ago.

The column from last weekend was by Bill Hall, whose writing base for about six decades has been the Lewiston Tribune. Its message was, that column would be his last.

By the time I arrived at the University of Idaho back in 1974, Hall already was renowned around Idaho for his editorials and columns at the Tribune. Soon after that he departed, for about a year and a half, to work for Senator Frank Church, and there wasn’t a certainty he’d be coming back. But Church lost his presidential bid in 1976, Hall wrote a book about it (“Frank Church, D.C. and Me,” from Washington State University Press, a great read on all three topics) and soon returned to Lewiston.

His departure and his return was much noted and not just in Lewiston, where Hall’s blistering, biting and often funny editorials so often launched political conversation in the mornings. It was a big deal statewide, even in the far reaches of the state, and even in the pre-Internet era. Politically-interested people considered it necessary to get hold of what Hall was saying.

One of the Tribune writers who worked closely with Hall, Jay Shelledy (now a journalism professor at Louisiana State University), was quoted in one article about Hall, “There are not many papers in the United States where the best-read page is the editorial page. Without question, Hall is the best-known journalist in the state's history.”

He learned about Idaho in the three corners of the state, growing up in Canyon County, then attending college and starting his newspaper career in Pocatello. By the time in 1965 he left for Lewiston, he already was well-schooled in Idaho politics. When I arrived at the Idaho State Journal newspaper a decade-plus after he’d left, I often prowled through his writings about local and state politics, using them to fill in gaps in what I was learning elsewhere.

By then I knew where to look because of Hall’s editorials, which I’d read at college and afterward. They were a lethal combination: Well informed and witty, and up for taking on just about anyone. Even Idaho hunters, as he wrote when the idea arose of a wildlife council picking Fish & Game Commission members: “That could be a two-edged sword because it might tend to give a disproportionate voice to those chronic whiners who want to blame state biologists every time they get too drunk, inept, or unlucky to kill an elk.”

Many newspapers shrink from editorial heat, but the Tribune never has. Hall’s view as I heard it was that he was good business: People might yell at the newspaper but they sure kept reading it.

Part of what allowed this to work was the unusual atmosphere at the Tribune, which issued punchy editorials before Hall’s tenure and has continued to since, under the local control of the Alford family. But Hall’s humor has been a critical individual part of the mix. Since his mid-70s hiatus his columns have been humorous, personal, often gentle – different to an almost drastic degree from the sometimes fiery editorialist. But the two sides could never be separated entirely, and a serious sensibility underlies even many of his more recent columns, since he retired from editorial writing in 2002.

No more Hall columns. Hardly seems like Idaho.
 

(Primary) election night

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Tonight, a short running updated blog on the elections. My intent is to keep at it until we get resolution of the key races ... as long as that's tonight ...

11:24p It's mostly wrapped up now; the closest question mark seems to be the lieutenant governor's race. More comments on various of these contests coming soon ...

9:55p Numbers are still incomplete, of course, but returns now indicating a long string of Idaho Republican legislators, a few in the north and a nch in the east, may be lose their primaries. The numbers currently so indicate for Reps. Heather Scott, Jeff Thompson, Julie VanOrden, Tom Loertscher, Ron Nate.

9:25p Waiting on votes from northern Idaho, maybe especially significant in the Republican governor's race, where Raul Labrador has fallen, for now at least, into third place. The north might energize his numbers a bit.

On the Democratic side, the Jordan lead seems to be holding steady.

9:15p Be it noted that there was a special election in Pennsylvania for a state House seat, and it flipped from Republican to Democratic. Pretty much everything else on the ballot today was of an intra-party nature; this was nearly the only thing to amount to a true party contest.

8:55p Ah, the New York Times has faster data.

The Democratic contest foe governor is quite the spectacular. With 17% of precincts in, Paulette Jordan is way ahead, 58% to A.J. Balukoff's 39%, and has been ahead consistently. Blaine County is a big facotr in this - it's nearly all in - but the biggest chunk of the reported vote so far is in Ada County, a third of which has reported, and which theoretically ought to be Balukoff's base. A long way to go, but this could be a significant upset in the making.

On the Republican side, things have been steadier all evening, with a not-massive but steady lead by Brad Little. Of the 17 counties reporting so far, Raul Labrador is leading just two two (Canyon and Jefferson), while Tommy Ahlquist leads in four - leaving Little ahead in 11 of 17. Many numbers yet to come in, but Little has a good, solid start.

And Republican lieutenant governor is still close, and the 1st House district (with Fulcher way ahead) still is not.

8:51p On the Oregon gubernatorial, Buehler seems to have the nomination locked down. But he's getting less than half of the vote, after spending many months (until quite recently) commonly considered the obvious nominee. There seems to be a significant part of the party's electorate unwilling to embrace him. In truth, he's been bipartisan enough that it's not hard to understand. But he's not likely to attract many votes from the other side of the fence, either, in the fall.

Statewide Idaho vote is coming in a little sluggishly, at least on the state website.

8:45p On a local level, have to say I'm surprised that our city's public safety bond - a small one, to build a new and much-needed police building - looks to be failing, and decisively, about 60-40. It seemed to have lots of support, with more than 150 yard signs posted (this in a town of 2,000 people) and lots of positive reaction, only limited negative. (Disclosure: We did some volunteer work for the campaign.) But goes to show you never can take these local tax measures to granted, not that the advocates did - they ran a sound and energetic campaign. But the subject is going to have to be addressed again.

8:29p Early numbers now in both Idaho and Oregon; nothing decisive yet, though. Maybe.

In the Oregon Republican gubernatorial, Bend legislator Knute Buehler is off to a good start with close to half of the overall vote (in a large field); if that holds for a while longer, he may have the nomination sewn up. So far, he's showing leads in all of the populous western and central counties, and his closest competition, San Carpenter, has leads mainly in the low-population rural eastern counties. The theory that a split opposition leads to a Buehler win seems to be holding up. (On the Democratic side, a lightly opposed incumbent Kate Brown has well over 80% of the vote.)

In Idaho, far fewer votes are counted as yet (49 of 961 precincts). The early numbers give a big lead in the 1st House district to Russ Fulcher, with David Leroy in a distant second, and all others bunched far behind; this is looking like what it long seemed to be, which was a Fulcher-Leroy contest (with the edge to Fulcher). The early numbers also are showing a modest but real lead in the Republican gubernatorial for Brad Little, with Raul Labrador in second place and Tommy Ahlquist in a not too-distant third (the percentages early on were about 40-30-25). Some clue about the meaning of that may come in the Democratic primary, where in the early voting Paulette Jordan was running far ahead - about 2 to 1 - of A.J. Balukoff. The large-field lieutenant governor's race looked to be a tight three-way battle between Marv Hagedorn, Janice McGeachin and Steve Yates, and this one is far from settled.

7:48p Most of the PA and NE races, in truth, are not high-stakes in the larger picture. One or two of the PA House races could matter, in terms of whether a party will be well-enough candidate-armed come the fall. That may be true as well in NE-2. And certainly Pennsylvania could be pivotal in deciding whether the House flips. But the individual races tonight, mostly at least, do not seem very determinative. Oregon and Idaho, at least locally, promise to be more so.

7:31p A good chunk of the Nebraska vote is in, enough to discern one of the hotter primaries of the evening so far. Nebraska 2 is the one realistically competitive congressional district there, and it's looking like a close call between Brad Ashford (very narrowly in the lead) and Kara Eastman. Eastman is the outsider, Ashland the legislative veteran. (The winner will face Republican Don Bacon, the uncontested incumbent.)

7:20p A lot of the Pennsylvania numbers are coming in, though it's a little difficult at this point to work out the meaning of many of them. The catch is partly that some of the numbers - including sometimes-pivotal Bucks County - look a little odds, in terms of totals and amounts. For example, in one Republican contest, " A moment ago, 13% of the vote was reporting statewide in Pennsylvania, and Lou Barletta had just a 53-47 lead on Jim Christiana. Now, with 14% reporting—in other words, a fairly small increase in the total vote—Barletta’s leapt out to a 66-34 advantage." Will keep a watch.