Soon, courtesy of all Idaho’s taxpayers, Republican voters will march to the polls to state their preference for the nation’s next commander-in-chief.
Whether this exercise has any impact upon the presidential sweepstakes remains to be seen, especially since Idahoans will be voting one week after Super Tuesday, the big enchilada that will see over a third of the delegates being selected.
With Michigan and Mississippi also holding primaries, it’s a safe bet the national media will congregate that night in Detroit, not Boise.
Still, it is fascinating to examine which aspirant is being supported by which major Idaho Republican figure. To date one could say Idaho has covered itself with prominent Idahoans having spread their support across most of the candidates.
The one big exception is the current GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. He has a posted list of 860 supporters, but who they are and how well organized they are remains to be seen. It is doubtful that endorsements by any one figure will carry real influence. Far more likely is the scenario that the one or two top winners in Super Tuesday will likewise do well in Idaho.
In 2008 and in 2012 Idaho Republicans went with the eventual party nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney. In 2016, Idaho GOP rules for selecting delegates to the National Convention in July in Cleveland will probably result in more than one candidate picking up Idaho delegates.
If one candidate receives over 50% of the vote he will garner all 32 delegates. If the winner has less than that, to receive delegates, the threshold is more than 20%. This will guarantee that Idaho has a split delegation at least for the first round of balloting in Cleveland.
In late February the Idaho race appears to be shaping up as a contest between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Mr. Trump with Florida Senator Marco Rubio closing in on the frontrunners.
Rubio has two aces in his hand - U.S. Senator Jim Risch and the “shadow shogun” of Republican politics, Idaho Falls billionaire businessman Frank VanderSloot. Risch and Rubio serve together on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. Both are devout Roman Catholics.
VanderSloot is a member in good standing of the LDS Church. Speculation as to why he would support Rubio over Cruz goes right to the heart of the major difference between Cruz and Rubio regarding the issue of illegal immigrants, who Cruz would ship back, but Rubio would allow to remain if they go to the back of the line of those applying for citizenship.
VanderSloot reportedly employs a goodly number of legal immigrants at his Melaleuca company. A major fund-raiser last time around for Mitt Romney were the National Convention to be brokered one could expect VanderSloot to switch back to Romney.
Approximately one-third of the Idaho electorate belong to the LDS Church. These voters tend to be quite conservative, but some would argue this does not mean they would go for Cruz. After all several million evangelicals stayed home in 2012 rather than vote for Mormon.
This fact alone caused some to arch an eyebrow when First District Congressman Raul Labrador threw his endorsement to Cruz following the collapse of Rand Paul’s campaign. Other Cruz supporters include former party chair Norm Semanko and State Treasurer Ron Crane.
Jeb Bush enjoys the support of former Governor, U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, as well as that of former Attorney General and Lt. Governor David Leroy. Phil Reberger, former Kempthorne chief of staff and major domo in his own right in GOP circles is also thought to be a Bush supporter.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has the support of two Idaho state legislators, Merv Hagedorn and Robert Anderst.
Idaho’s other major officeholders - Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, Senator Mike Crapo, Second District Congressman Mike Simpson and Lt. Governor Brad Little are all remaining studiously neutral.
To this writer’s thinking, the best of the GOP lot, and indeed the best of the whole bunch is the Ohio governor, John Kasich.
As to the Democrats, they caucus on March 22nd. Last time around Hillary Clinton’s team overlooked Idaho and to their chagrin Obama’s team captured a majority of Idaho’s delegates.
This time around Idaho will be a contest that will come down to whether the young voter’s adoration for Senator Sanders translates into attendance at their caucus vs. the Clinton team’s ability to turn out her base.
One word of caution to Senator Sanders - he’d best back off of his plank calling for free higher education to be treated as a birthright. Universities in states like Idaho or California, where there are private religious affiliated schools, would rapidly be driven from the field - the College of Idaho, Northwest Nazarene, BYU-Idaho, and Gonzaga simply could not compete against public schools offering free higher education.