What Idaho’s Primary Results Show About the State of the GOP

Gov.-Otter-Friday-3The results of the Idaho GOP primary are in and what they show tells us quite a bit about the state of the Grand Ole’ party.  But before we get to what the results tell us we must know what they are.  More specifically, the marquee races in the GOP primary.

In the race for Governor, Butch Otter continues to reign supreme.  Aided by a vigorous get out the vote operation the Governor secured 51% of the vote.  His strongest challenger, former state senator Russ Fulcher garnered 44% of the vote.  Fulcher managed to win Ada and Kootenai counties but Otter ran up strong margins in Eastern Idaho.

In the wide open Secretary of State race, conservative and former House Speaker Lawerence Denney won a crowded race for the office with 37% of the vote.  His closest competitor, Ada County Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, who was endorsed by Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, finished second with 27% of the vote.  Former state senators Evan Frasure and Mitch Toryanski received 19% and 15% of the vote respectively.

The crowded race for Superintendent of Public Schools featured four candidates. Sherri Ybarra won with a mere 28.5% of the vote.  Randy Jensen finished second with 24.3%, followed by Common Core foe John Enyon at 24% and Andrew Grover at 23%.

In a race that attracted national following, Congressman Mike Simpson beat off challenger Bryan Smith 62%-38%.  The race looked promising at the beginning for Smith but a series of missteps and Simpson’s deep pockets and strong roots in the district prevailed.

In other races, Lt. Governor Brad Little easily beat Jim Chmelik with 66.8% of the vote.  Jim Risch cruised to his primary victory with 80% and Raul Labrador beat off three little known challengers with 80%.  In a very close race for State Controller, incumbent Brandon D Woolf beat Todd Hatfield 50.9%-49.1% and in the Attorney General race, Lawrence Wasden beat C.T. Troupis with 60% of the vote.

Each race featured its internal dynamics but was also tied into other races.  In the cases of the races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State Controller, it was anti-establishment vs. establishment.  The races for Education and Secretary of State also featured a similar dynamic in which Enyon ran as an opponent to Common Core and Denney ran as a supporter of taking back federal lands.

Unfortunately for the anti-establishment crowd the results speak for themselves.  Enyon’s loss suggests Idaho is all in on Common Core.  Otter and Little’s victories show the power of the status quo appeals to the business community and the halls of power in the party are unlikely to shift in four years.  For the anti-establishment crowd they can take heart in Denney’s victory.  The conservative former Speaker of the House favors many of the policies of other anti-establishment candidates.  Unlike Otter, Little and Ysursa, Denney favors the closed primary and wants to take back Idaho’s land from the federal government.  But one victory does not equal a trend and the Secretary of State’s office does not wield much power to accomplish such massive policy objectives.

As of this writing it appears clear the grassroots of the party remains discontented despite the establishment’s wins.  The composition of the State Central Committee appears unchanged meaning it will continue to be at odds with the Governor and his ilk. Overtures from the establishment before November are unlikely.  Indeed, the only bone Otter and Little seemed to throw the State Central Committee and the grassroots was a pledge in 2013 and continued in 2014 not to expand Medicaid.  However, when it comes to presenting viable alternatives to Medicaid Expansion the establishment has been silent.

Looking to 2016 and the likely open 2018 Governor’s race the grassroots will continue to look for a standard-bearer that can shake up the status quo.  This candidate will have to appeal to all elements of the party while fighting a strong establishment campaign apparatus.  Fulcher, badly outspent, still garnered 44% of the vote.  A little extra cash would have gone far.  It is thus imperative the future grassroots candidate find a way to raise cash to fight attacks on his/her record.

With Denney as SofS the anti-establishment will have a toehold in the state capitol beyond the legislature.  But moving forward their policy positions will require winning at the ballot box in more than the Secretary of State race.  Considering this cannot occur until at least 2018, expect the Idaho GOP to continue to be roiled by its divisions as contentious issues continue to split the legislature.  Also considering Brad Little is in line to run in 2018 after Otter steps down one can expect another establishment vs grassroots battle that will split the party.  Fortunately, Democrats are in too weak a state to exploit such a rift.


What UKIP’s Results in the United Kingdom say about 2015

Nigel Farage is leader of the growing United Kingdom Independence Party.
Nigel Farage is leader of the growing United Kingdom Independence Party.

I admit I am far from an expert on the United Kingdom’s political system.  However, there are similarities between the US’s and UK’s systems.  The UK uses single member districts just as the US does to elect the House of Commons.  Further, the system is designed in such a way to electorally make it virtually impossible for more than the major three parties; Tories (Conservatives), Labour (Labor) and Liberal-Democrats from dominating Parliament.  There are differences galore however.  First-off, the House of Lords (higher chamber) is nominated, not elected, unlike the US Senate.  Second, the UK uses a Parliamentary form of governance in which the powers of the executive and the legislature are fused together.  The Queen really is a figurehead.

Just as there are local elections in localities across the US the same recently occurred in the UK.  Also, because the UK belongs to the European Union, they elect delegates to be appointed to the European Parliament.  These elections, occurring last week, have the potential to remake the UK electoral map.  The United Kingdom Independence Party’s stunning success in local and European Parliament elections have turned heads and pose a significant threat to the current Conservative-Liberal Democratic governing coalition as well as Labor’s electoral fortunes moving forward.

So what is the United Kingdom Independence Party?  Essentially, UKIP is a populist, right-wing party that opposes the EU and wants to limit if not end immigration into the UK.  Indeed, their manifesto blames the lack of jobs for native residents, increased crime and pressure on services delivery and destruction of green space on the massive number of new immigrants entering the country.  The party also echoes many facets of the Conservative majority; low taxes (though Conservatives increased the income tax on top earners), more police on the streets and decentralizing power so the local level makes more decisions (you can read their entire EU manifesto above with the link and their local manifesto here).

UKIP translating this success to victory in Parliamentary elections next May will not be easy.  It should be noted another difference between the US and UK is the governing coalition can call an election at any time within five years of the formation of their government.  If they do not elections occur automatically in five years.  This gives the governing party a built-in electoral advantage beyond the electoral system itself.  Elections next year would seem to benefit UKIP.  Voters are worried and anxious about the economy, taxes and European bailouts that saddle their country with international financial obligations.  But this assumes that the voters who gave the UKIP such success at the local level will vote the same way next year for Parliament.  Moreover, they are fully on board with everything the party stands for.

Apparently not so much.  According to public opinion polls, UKIP is hovering around 10-15% of the vote.  One poll showed them jumping to 17% after last week.  Labor and Conservatives both hover above 30% by varying margins while the Liberal-Democrats hover below UKIP’s totals.  For Conservatives this means they likely will need to gain seats to offset the losses their coalition partner suffers next May.

The Guardian has suggested that local elections are now a four party affair.  This looks true.  But Parliamentary elections are another can of worms.  UKIP’s success in local elections was scattered across the country and in many places where Labor dominates Parliamentary elections. See map here for an example.  If one assumes that the Liberal-Democrats are irrelevant next May there are lessons to be learned for both Labor and Conservatives.

In regards to both, UKIP can win in both labor and conservative dominated areas.  UKIP has proven the ability to capitalize on the economic and social concerns of blue-collar males.  Conservatives have increasingly turned to courting socially progressive urbanities and Labor has paid little attention to blue-collar individuals since Blair left in 2007.  Labor’s strength is becoming increasingly consolidated in Northern and rural England, Scotland and urban London.  Conservative strength is still based in the London suburbs and Southern England but it is bleeding away slowly.

Comparing the 2001, 2005 and 2010 election results maps one can see this in detail.  In 2001, Labor dominated elections by crushing the Conservatives in London and dominating Scotland.  In 2005, Conservatives made some gains in London and Scotland but in truth seat movement was minimal and Labor maintained dominance.  The results of the 2010 election and Conservative resurgence could be summed up by two factors; Blair’s removal as leader of the Labor Party in 2007 and boundary changes in 2006 that benefited the Conservative party.  From the 2010 map one can see a startling difference in Conservative support in almost every party of England.  Yet in Scotland, Liberal-Democrats and Labor still dominated.

UKIP’s success should be more concerning for the Tories in that they took far more traditionally conservative support than Labor.  Conservative support also dropped sharply in urban London from 2010, allowing Labor to take a slew of Tory councils.  Tories need to be aware that their support in urban London is likely to dry up in 2015.  This means making up the difference somewhere else.  But where will it come from?  Anthony Scholefield and Gerald Frost pointed out in their 2011 study Too Nice to Be Tories, “The Conservative Party has been steadily losing one region of the United Kingdom after another in the last 40 years. It used to be able to depend on nine to twelve Unionist votes from Northern Ireland for its parliamentary majority; it gets none now. It won half the Scottish seats in 1955; the last three general elections each returned one Scottish Tory to Parliament. It wins eight seats out of 40 in Wales. And from the 158 MPs elected from the North of England, the Tories got 53.”

None of this is apparent from the maps above because it occurred largely before 2001.  But UKIP’s eating into Conservative support in suburban and rural England should deeply concern the party.  Without this support Conservatives would be a minority based in their Southern England redoubt.  UKIP also has proven the ability to eat into the Lib-Dems margins and possibly make them irrelevant next May.

Cameron and Conservatives have some weapons to deal with their electoral predicament.  The first is promoting an economic rebound that convinces enough swing voters that Conservatives deserve a majority outright (hey, Conservatives in Canada did it).  Second, and this one seems the most likely, is forge an electoral deal with UKIP in which Conservatives agree not to run candidates for certain seats in return for UKIP doing the same in other seats.  The most likely scenario this would pan out as would be Conservatives not fielding candidates in London and UKIP not fielding candidates in traditionally Conservative Northern England seats.  Conservatives would dominate England and UKIP would gain seats that could have gone Labor if the right-wing vote was split.  So far, Cameron has opposed such a deal.

Lastly, Cameron can hope that the Scottish referendum on Independence gains traction and wins.  This would devastate Labor and the Lib Dems as Labor would lose 41 seats, the Lib-Dems 11 and the Tories a mere 1 seat.  So far, opponents of Independence appear to have the upper hand.

Conservatives and Labor both have reasons to worry heading into 2015.  UKIP has the potential to damage both parties electoral prospects and make the Lib-Dems largely irrelevant.  If it is not clear to both parties already it should be soon; if Conservatives and Labor want to keep the UK a three party state they will have to work hard to convince all voters why UKIP is wrong.  So far, no party has done a convincing job since the election results last week.



Obama’s Victories Have Not Aided Democratic Minority Candidates

225095_5_For the first post-racial President, Obama has not done much to aid minority candidates seeking higher office.  Indeed, the Democratic bench of minority candidates for state executive or federal office is minimalist at best.  This stands in stark contrast to a Republican bench of minority candidates that is strong despite struggling with winning minority votes. The Democrats four statewide federal or executive candidates, New Jersey Senators Corey Booker and Bob Menendez, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono  and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick look unlikely to have further political aspirations.  Republicans have Governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Martina Susana (NM), Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL) and Tim Scott (SC).  The party is now sure to see Mia Love, the nation’s first Mormon, female African-American join its House ranks after November and in Oklahoma, State House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Native American, has a real shot to win the Senate special election to replace retiring Tom Coburn.

GOP efforts to push these candidates of late has been a mix of establishment support to remake the party’s image among the public (Tim Scott) and Tea party support of upstart candidates (Rubio and Cruz).  These candidates cut across the ideological spectrum of the GOP.  Sandoval cuts the mold of a moderate, Martinez a conservative, Rubio establishment and Scott and Cruz anti-establishment figures.  What is notable is that Democrats do not have a similar dynamic.

In 2008 and 2012 African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians overwhelmingly supported President Obama over John McCain and Mitt Romney.  But this did not result in a new wave of minority candidates reaching office.  Rather, Menendez has been in office for decades, Booker was elected in the anti-Bush wave election of 2006 and Corey Booker won a special election in New Jersey in 2011.  Hirono was elected in 2012 during the Presidential election.

Democrats seem to have placed a much larger emphasis on courting female candidates rather than minority candidates.  For example, in the competitive Senate races in Kentucky and Georgia, Democrats have touted Allison Grimes and Michelle Nunn, both white females.  In the botched FL-13 Congressional District recruiting fiasco, Democrats spurned a minority candidate in local NAACP Chapter President Manuel Sykes for a better looking candidate.  That candidate dropped out for embellishing his resume and Sykes has no interest in reentering the race.

None of this can be laid directly at the President’s feet.  He does not run the party’s recruitment efforts.  But for a candidate that won an astounding 80% of the minority vote in 2008 and 2012 that margin of victory has not aided nor encouraged many minority candidates to step up and run.  Rather, it seems that during Obama’s tenure the party has taken a step back in promoting minority candidates.

In Michigan the state party shunned selecting any nominees from urban Detroit in an effort to better appeal to suburban and rural voters in the state.  In Hawaii, Governor Neil Ambercrombie shunned Congresswomen Colleen Hanubusa in favor of his Lt. Governor, Brian Schatz, for the seat.  Ambercrombie might be suffering backlash as he trails the Hawaiian GOP candidate for Governor.  Notably, the President endorsed Schatz over Hanubusa.  Hanabusa is waging a primary campaign against Schatz and has a decent shot at upsetting the establishment.

Minority candidates have made great strides since the start of the new decade, running for higher office but it has largely come within the Republican party.  This contrasts with the image the Democratic party is creating of the GOP as the party that wants to ban minorities and the young from voting.  Minorities could make an electoral stride in 2014 in Hawaii and Corey Booker is sure to be elected to a full term this November in New Jersey but Republicans appear set to allow minority candidates to make greater strides.  In the era of Obama minorities have made great strides but they have come within the Republican Party!


Primary Day Shows Irrelevance of Idaho Democrats

ajsmilePrimary day came and went in Idaho last week and the most startling result was not the results in the party that dominates the state.  Rather, it was the results in the minority party’s vote totals.

Republicans closing their primary seemed to have minimal impact on their primary.  The  majority of voters cast ballots in their primary and a majority of contested constitutional offices were contested .  Don’t believe me.  Take a look at the vote totals from the Secretary of State’s office here.  Maybe Democrats best success is that they fielded challengers for every major constitutional office expect state treasurer.  Unfortunately, this provides scant comfort to the party.  The harsh reality is primary day 2014 revealed the irrelevance of the Idaho Democratic Party,

Specifically, in the GOP Governor’s primary 155,333 votes were tallied.  In the contested Democratic primary a mere 25,643 were tallied.  Want more examples?  In the Republican primary for US Senate 148,824 votes were tallied to a mere 24,288 votes for the two Democratic contenders.  In the 1st Congressional GOP primary 71,540 ballots were cast (for four candidates) to a mere 11,028 for two Democrats.  This massive voting discrepancy even continued in the State Treasurer race.  Incumbent Ron Crane, running unopposed, garnered 138,832 votes to 23,759 for two Democrats fighting for their party’s nomination.

Certainly some voters registered as Republican to participate in the state’s defacto election but this also highlights the Democrats struggles in the state.   Democrats have kept their primary open but even so far more voters chose to participate in the GOP’s closed primary.  Despite protestations Idahoans are not Republican the primary results suggest otherwise.  Or if they are not Republican they sure know which primary is more important.

Even in races where Democrats have historically run competitively in November, their numbers were abysmal compared to the GOP’s.  These results also show other problems Democrats face in Idaho.  First, Democrats struggle to convince voters even with centrist candidates they can win ANY constitutional statewide office.  Second, Democrats struggle to attract media attention and fundraising to their causes.  Indeed, a cursory look at the Idaho Statesman’s political coverage shows it is almost all about Republicans.  Third, Democrats cannot separate themselves from their national party despite their best efforts.  One should expect Balukoff to be tied to Obama at least once before November.

Democrats best hopes for being competitive at some point lie in the future.  Demographic shifts suggest Idaho is becoming a younger, more diverse and urban state.  All these patterns have benefited Democrats elsewhere across the country.  Democrats also need a young, transformative candidate for state office to remake the image of their party. Much as Cecil Andrus made the party relevant in the state until the 90’s, Democrats need another Andrus to revive their fortunes.

Good luck with that!

addendum: The 2014 GOP primary is yet another data point to show the closed primary has had minimal impact on the GOP’s relations with voters.

This post originally mistakenly labelled Brent Crane as the GOP State Treasurer.  Brent Crane is a state rep.  Ron Crane is the GOP State Treasurer.



The Four Faces of Today’s Democratic Party

Reed represents a new breed of social welfare minorities that favor anti-poverty programs as well as business friendly policies.
Reed represents a new breed of social welfare minorities that favor anti-poverty programs as well as business friendly policies.

Republicans have divisions between the Tea Party, main-street Republicans and the business wing of their party.  The media has documented this divide thoroughly.  But Democrats have their own divisions, helpfully covered up a compliant media and control of the White House.  This divide has the potential to split the party in the future during a Hilary Clinton 2016 run or further into the future.  One can describe the Democratic Party as being made up of the four groups below.

1. Gentry/upscale suburbanites: Gentry/upscale liberals typically reside in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.  They dominate areas such as Seattle/Tacoma, San Francisco, New York, Boston and more.  These gentry liberals donated heavily to the Obama campaign and are generally comfortable with the direction the party is heading.  Afterall, under Obama, these individuals have seen their primary concerns over climate, protecting financial institutions and subsidizing the housing market be addressed.  In 2016, a Hilary Clinton candidacy will likely rely heavily on these voters to fill her campaign coffers and secure her an base of electoral votes to start from.

2. Populist Progressives: When one thinks of a populist progressive, images of NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and Senator Elizabeth Warren come to mind.  Similar to young, GOP faces such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul capturing the hearts of the grassroots of the party, Warren and De Blasio encapsulate the same phenomena.  De Blasio and Warren have already clashed with the gentry/liberal wing of the party.  De Blasio was told to back off attacking Wal-Street and calling for higher taxes on NYC wealthy residents by Governor Mario Cuomo.  Warren has clashed with Committee Chairman over financial and banking issues.  Populist progressives favor redistribution policies that expand the social safety net in some form; think minimum wage hike, more funding for entitlements, etc.  Like the Tea Party they also share a distrust of big business and banks and often clash with elements of the party over the issue.

3. Social Welfare Minorities: Over 80% of minorities gave their vote to the party for President in 2008 and 2012 and as such they are an indispensable piece of the party’s coalition.  However, there is a great ideological schism between minorities within the party.  On the one hand you have centrists such as Senators Corey Booker, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.  On the other side of the spectrum are firebrand civil rights minorities such as Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters.  In a way social welfare minorities can fall in the populist progressive wing, the gentry liberal wing but also the old school Democrat wing of the party.  The number of minorities within the party’s Caucus ensures a wide range of views and their votes often diverge on most issues, beyond social welfare votes.

4. Old School Democrats: The wing of the party that hails from Andrew Jackson, old school Democrats are a dying breed of Democrat, literally.  These Democrats have long given their votes for socially and fiscally conservative Southern Democrats.  But, these voters are also older and dying off.  They are also being marginalized in favor of other interest groups such as environmental activists, feminism and the like.  Republicans have consistently poached these voters from the Democratic camp and increasingly are making such deep inroads that old school, blue-collar unions are now turning to the GOP.

These wings of the party disagree on various issues.  A Clinton candidacy in 2016 would have to excite the grassroots but also not upset the gentry/liberal wing of the party that might show some support to a moderate GOP nominee such as Chris Christie if the party becomes to progressive.  Though an unlikely scenario it should concern Democrats.  What should also concern Democrats is that the views of social welfare minorities and the gentry/upscale wing of the party might diverge over time.

Gentry liberals can afford to see higher insurance premiums and energy prices.  Their views and those of old school Democrats diverged long ago.  But minorities cannot continue to see higher premiums, energy prices or more importantly, lack of jobs, for much longer.  Gentry liberals answers to this dilemma is to send more money to the War on Poverty but several up and coming minority Democrats realize there is another component to getting minorities jobs; creating jobs and being friendly to the middle class and business community.

In time gentry liberals views might only be represented on the coastal fringes of the country and wealthy billionaires such as Tom Steyer.  Social welfare minorities might put their fates in the hands of centrist up and comers.  Old School Democrats will continue to flee the party or die off and their legacy will die with them.  Populist progressives will continue to cause tension within the party as they push for massive redistributionist policies that do not gel with social welfare minority candidates and the gentry/liberal class that wants massive government subsidies for the environment and business but not be heavily taxed to pay for it.

Idaho’s Republican Divide

1530436_10152167047377938_1102006757_nIdaho has long been a Republican state.  In a prior post I chronicled Idaho’s turn from pink to ruby-red.  But with one party dominance come issues and the Idaho GOP has them.  Today’s Idaho GOP is divided among libertarians, constitutionalists, the establishment, moderates and the Tea Party.  The divide among the GOP can easily be seen by looking at the races for Governor, the 1st Congressional District and Second Congressional District primary races.

The race for Governor has attracted the most statewide attention for several reasons.  Governor Butch Otter, seeking a third term, was the only GOP Governor with a GOP legislature to create a state Healthcare exchange (GOP Governors in NV and NM did so with Democratic legislatures).  The move angered the libertarian and Tea Party wing of the party and state senator Russ Fulcher, a vocal opponent of the exchange in the legislature, is challenging Otter.  Most analysts peg Otter as having the advantage but Fulcher is sure to cultivate grassroots anger against the move.  Fulcher and Otter also differ on usage of federal lands as well as the closed primary.

Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District race between Congressman Mike Simpson and challenger Bryan Smith is a case-study in both the Idaho and national GOP divide.  Smith and Simpson largely agree on the issues; oppose the EPA, cut spending, shrink government, but they differ over strategy.  Simpson, a strong ally of John Boehner, believes compromise is a necessary part of governing as long as it does not sacrifice one’s principles.  Smith believes no compromise is necessary and Simpson by voting for TARP in 2008 and recently the government shutdown ending CR has sold out conservative principles.  This is not the first challenge of this kind that Simpson has faced.  In both 2010 and 2012 Simpson faced Tea Party inspired challengers, the most notable being Chick Heilson.  In the crowded 2010 primary Simpson garnered a mere 58% but in 2012, matched up one on one against Heilson he garnered over 70%.

The GOP’s 1st Congressional District primary features the exact opposite contrast.  Sophomore Raul Labrador, not as willing to compromise as Simpson and often viewed as a face of the Tea Party, faces a a libertarian challenger who supports hemp legalization and Michael Greenway.  Greenway, a BSU graduate, argues that the GOP needs to moderate and work with Democrats on key issues.  In this mold he is more similar to Simpson and favors compromise (though Simpson’s rhetoric is far more conservative).

Other races in Idaho showcase the party divide.  Lt. Governor Brad Little, sure to be reelected, faces Jim Chmelik, who favors the state taking over federal lands.  In the Attorney General’s race, Lawrence Wasden faces challenger Chris Troupis whose campaign is contingent on his successful litigation of the state party’s effort to close the primary.  The crowded field for Superintendant of Public Instruction race features four candidates that agree on many issues but the field is divided on support for Common Core.  Three candidates, Andy Grover, Randy Jensen and Sherri Ybarra, favor Common Core while John Enyon opposes it.  A slate of legislative primaries also feature incumbent vs. libertarian/Tea Party Republican challengers.

These divides have spilled over into public discourse among party members.  Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has described himself and other incumbents as “Sane Republicans.”  The inference being libertarian/Tea Party challengers to statewide Constitutional officeholders are whackjobs.  Former Idaho Governor Phil Batt argued the Tea Party is holding back anti-discrimination legislation for the LBGT community (never-mind most of the party establishment opposes it).  At the Shoshone County Lincoln Day banquet in April, Otter got in the face of state party chairman Barry Peterson regarding precinct committee races.  Yet another series of races that feature the divide within the party.  Precinct committeemen sit on the State Central Committee and have guided party policy towards closing the primary and opposing the state exchange.

I got to see the divide firsthand at a Boise State Public Radio event featuring Democratic strategist Betty Richardson (her bile spewed far and wide),  BSU Professor Emeritus Jim Weatherby and retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.  One would expect Betty to argue the GOP is off its rockers but it was striking to see Ysursa speak so disrespectfully of his fellow party members (Russ Fulcher in particular).  Perhaps it is a good thing he is leaving.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when this divide within the party began.  Dirk Kempthorne’s successful gas tax initiative in 2005 certainly did not help.  Nor did Governor Otter’s 2008 effort to stack the State Central Committee with his handpicked chairman.  After Otter’s failure the State Party voted to close its primary.  Ben Ysursa actually sued his party and lost in court in 2011.  Since that time Otter, Little and Ysursa have all been publicly opposed to the closed primary.  The state party openly opposed a state exchange but the legislature and Otter moved ahead with it regardless.

It is clear one party control has helped divide the party on ideology.  If a party wins election after election it is only natural that the political debate within the state be over ideological distinctions. Democrats since 1994 have long been irrelevant in the state for reasons mentioned in prior posts.  Perhaps that might be the real reason Betty is so bitter.  The best her party can come up with this year is a nobody Senate candidate and a Moscow legislator who is far from moderate to challenge Labrador.  Their Constitutional office candidates are more appealing but far from centrist (Holli Woodings anyone).

Tonight’s primary results will go a long way in showing where the party is heading.  It is likely that even if the GOP overreaches it will maintain strong control of the legislature and most, if not all, Constitutional offices.  In 2012, despite seeing all three elements of the Students Come First Laws repealed by referendum the GOP did not lose a single seat in the legislature.   Hence, the party can afford to have these primary skirmishes to chart its future.  In time it could backfire on the party and the more establishment or Tea Party/libertarian wing of the party could be humbled.  But even so, the Idaho Republican Party’s divide will go on well into the future.




The Middle Is Still Up for Grabs

originalCentrist Democratic think Tank Third Way, the successor of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council whose ideas fueled Bill Clinton’s two terms, unveiled its inaugural State of the Center survey this week.  The survey will run monthly and the results averaged for each year.  In this way the think tank hopes to establish that while Congress remains gridlocked and few members find middle ground the American public can and is centrist in ideology.

Some notable findings of the survey can be found here (summed up nicely by Molly Ball at the Atlantic).  More importantly for the parties are several key findings I will report below.  Republicans often lose moderate voters by around 10-15% in national and statewide elections.  Since many GOP voters identify as conservative and conservatives make up a bigger share of the electorate than moderates or liberals the party can often make up the difference.

1. Among those who identified as Democratic only 38% call themselves liberal, 37% moderate and 25% conservative.

2. 40% of moderates in the survey identified as Democrats, 21% Republican and 39% Independent.

3. Among all moderates, 33% say they vote equally for Republican and Democratic candidates.

4. Only 23% of moderates favor a bigger government that provides more services while 37% favor a smaller government with fewer services.

5. 53% of moderates say government is not involved enough in the economy to 40 percent who cite it is. Still, more moderates fear big government (52 percent) than big business (41 percent). Two-thirds of moderates think government often gets in the way of economic growth, and a majority (54 percent) think that if government is involved in something, it often goes wrong.

6. A plurality of moderates believe a strong safety net is needed but that the government creates incentives for poor people not to work.

The above points are just a snapshot of the survey’s findings.  Moderates tend to see both sides of issues.  For example, 84% favor background checks on guns but 58% say current gun laws are sufficient.  Huge majorities of moderates favor expansion of domestic oil exploration (75%) and investing in renewable fuels (90%).  Moderates also show pragmatism on social and cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

The survey’s findings indicate several lessons both parties should heed.  For Democrats looking for standard-bearer after the age of Obama, the safe bet is Hillary Clinton.  While the vast majority of liberals identify as Democrat they are not a majority of the party.  Rather, moderates and conservatives continue to make up a sizable chunk of the party and nominating a firebrand like Warren or O’Malley has the potential to split the party and open a rift for the eventual GOP nominee to exploit.

Republicans can take heart from this survey.  Despite the party’s rightward tilt (over-documented by the media), many moderates do agree the government is to big or at least ineffective.  Instead of arguing government should be shrunk at all costs Republicans should focus on a reform orientated agenda that fixes failing agencies such as the VA and Education.  GOP rhetoric towards the poor and disadvantaged, particularly minorities, should focus less on their work ethic and the benefits they accrue and more towards how to get these people working.

Republicans may be handicapped by the politically conservative nature of their base.  Unlike Democrats who have a mix of voters with differing ideologies, 72% of Republicans identify as conservative compared to 26% as moderate and a mere 2% as liberals.  The values of conservatives on shrinking government and involvement in the economy contrast sharply with moderates suggesting Republicans will need to be careful how they balance the views of moderates and their base.

In contrast to numerous surveys showing many Independents are closet conservative, disaffected Republicans, a whopping 48% identify as moderate, 18% liberal and 34% conservative.  This suggests both parties should continue to invest in winning Independents and understand this voting group may not be as full of closet partisans as initially assumed.

Both parties should learn from the survey.  Democrats, eager to hold onto the White House should not turn to the populist left to keep their streak alive.  Republicans, should ditch their fiery rhetoric and focus on a pro-growth, pro-reform agenda that lifts all boats.  If this survey is true the middle is truly alive and well and both Republicans and Democrats will need their support to control government in 2014 and beyond.