Most people in the US, including every Idaho voter, know where Idaho’s four electoral votes for President are going. What is less clear to many people is how the candidates for President will affect down-ballot races here in Idaho. It is generally accepted that President Obama at best will have no effect on Democratic candidates running local and legislative races here in Idaho. But at worst, he could be a major drag for many Democratic candidates. What is less clear is how much of an effect Romney, a Mormon, will have in Idaho?
No legislative district personifies close races than legislative district 18. By most accounts this is the swingiest district in the state and looks to remain so after redistricting. In 2004 the district has one Democratic Senator and two Republican Representatives. From 2006-2010 the district had an all Democratic delegation in the legislature. Since 2010 the District has had a split delegation of a GOP Senator and one Democratic and GOP Representative.
In 2006 the district gave well over 50% of its vote to Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady. In 2008 the district gave about 51% of its vote to President Obama. Come 2010 the district gave over 50% of its vote to GOP Governor Butch Otter in his bid for reelection. All this sets up for an interesting set of races in 2012.
Minus one candidate all the people running in District 18 are known commodities. Representative Julie Ellsworth (R) had represented the district from 1996-2006 and ran unsuccessfully twice more before winning again in 2010. Representative Phyllis King has represented the district since 2006 and ran unsuccessfully in 2002 and 2004. Senator Mitch Toryanski first ran in 2010 and won. Both Ellsworth and Toryanski face familiar competition this year. Janie Ward Endelking, a former teacher and administrator, is challenging Ellsworth again (lost in 2010). Meanwhile, former Representative Branden Durst, is challenging Toryanski again for the state Senate. The one unknown is Phyllis King’s competition in Brad Bolicek. He narrowly won a contested primary and appears to be not well-known in the district.
The district, true to form, has demographics that reflect its swing nature. It has pockets of affluence off the old Highway 21 (Republican leaning) and Amity Road (Democratic leaning), low-income areas off Vista and middle-income households centered around the Columbia Village area. It has pockets of left leaning affluent business people teachers, Boise State University employees and students. The district also has plenty of young, middle-income, GOP leaning voters. The district is almost 100% white according to the 2010 census. Lastly, the district had a sizable Mormon population.
This is where Romney might give the GOP candidates a boost. If Romney can boost Mormon turnout in the district even a few points than Toryanski and Ellsworth can win reelection easily. Bolicek might even be able to unseat King. But if Mormon turnout does not increase than the races will be tighter.
Of course there are other races where Romney could make a difference. In the two races for Ada County Commissioner, Romney could help the two Republican incumbents. If he needed any help, Romney could likely have helped Mike Simpson )R-ID) in the 2nd Congressional District.
One big race Romney could help Republicans with is in the 29th district based in Bannock County. The district has a retiring Democratic state Senator and two Republican state Representatives Bilyeau (D), retiring was an endangered incumbent virtually every year, but even more so this year due to redistricting and the fact Romney is on the ticket. Apparently this year running was not worth it. Instead, Democratic state rep. Roy Lacey will face Greg Romriell in a possibly GOP year. If Independents and Mormons act true to form they will vote for Romney and against Obama, and likely vote Bilyeau out.
So with all this said I do need to remind everybody these are simply educated guesses. Romney could have no impact in Idaho considering the state is already ruby red. It is more likely Romney will increase Mormon turnout in the swing states of Colorado and Nevada than Idaho. Still, having a Mormon at the top of the ticket for the GOP could drive turnout and for the GOP that could only be a good thing in Idaho.