When should a challenger to an Idaho legislator, or an outsider seeking to overcome the odds in running for a major office in the state, start their campaign?
It’s an easy answer: Yesterday.
By which I mean, a lot earlier than most candidates tend to get started. In the case of a legislative candidate, there’s a case to be made for waiting to go public until after the off-year legislative session is complete. Since that session is done for the year (well, maybe not, but at least so far as we know) there’s no reason not to get a campaign in order.
For statewide office, the time frame for an effective outsider campaign should be much longer. Much.
The work of a challenger – that mostly means Democrats in Idaho, of course, but also to a degree Republican primary challengers – is more vast and difficult, if the serious objective is to win, than most candidates imagine at first. Lots of time is needed to research the political situation (in microscopic detail), to develop local support and organizations and through all that, funding and external support. There is such a thing as local and grass roots support and campaigning, but people who lack the advantages of fame and money need a lot of what else can make that happen: Time.
Which is why some note ought to be given to a gubernatorial candidate who did launch her campaign, in a formal sense at least, this month. For governor. In the election to be held in 2026.
If that sounds wildly premature, reread the above paragraphs.
The candidate in question is Terri Pickens, who was the Democratic nominee for Idaho lieutenant governor in 2022. An attorney (and you pick up her professional demeanor quickly), she was born and raised in Pocatello, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow, and has practiced law in Lewiston and Boise. Running for lieutenant governor last year, she was unopposed in the Democratic primary but lost the general election to Republican Scott Bedke, taking 30.5% of the vote.
In the long tale of Idaho general election contests, none of that is especially remarkable.
What she’s done now, starting with filing paperwork to run in an election three and a half years out, is unusual. So is her ambitious plan to start work on building that campaign right away, and through the next three years: She has said the filing is not just a statement of intent to run, but the beginning of a campaign to be built out over the next thousand days or so.
She has a statement of intent that sounds strong enough to represent a starting point and call to action: “This year, we saw some of the meanest, most extreme, cruel laws proposed and enacted in Idaho. Lawmakers are dead set on taking away our freedoms. I am taking time to see how much support is out there for a governor candidate who understands that freedom isn't just a word on a flag. With enough support to give me a credible shot at winning, I will run for governor and I will win.”
Of course, the unknowns for that far out are considerable. There’s no certainty, for example, who the Republican nominee will be. Will incumbent Brad Little run - and if he does can he hold off Attorney General Raul Labrador, who’s widely presumed to be a candidate then? Or might someone else materialize? We’re talking about years into the future, after all. A lot of water will pass under bridges between here and there.
None of this is a prediction that Pickens will win: Democrats have lost eight straight elections for governor of Idaho since their last win, and none were even very close. There’s not a lot of recent history to back up a favorable prediction.
But trend lines never last forever. And if someone eventually is going to break this one, then this is how you do it: Starting far earlier and campaigning overwhelmingly. Keep a watch on this.