The 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.