Hawaii and Idaho share many characteristics. They are both strongly partisan states. Hawaii has one of the most Democratic legislatures in the country and Idaho has one of the most Republican. They both have two of the strongest partisan registration advantages for their respective dominating parties. Hawaii has an entirely Democratic federal delegation and Idaho has an entirely Republican one. But it is the minority parties that both share something in common. Hope!
In both states the minority parties are hoping to celebrate a surprise victory or two in November. Hawaii Republicans hope a third-party candidate siphons off enough votes for them to steal the Governorship for the third time in four elections. In Idaho, Democrats claim A.J. Balukoff’s moderate credentials are enough to knock off two term Governor Butch Otter. However, both are a stretch. It is a credit to both minority parties determination they even think they have a chance. So what are the chances of either happening? Let’s look and see.
Hawaii has not voted Republican for President since 1972 and until 2002 had not elected a GOP Governor since 1959. Linda Lingle, former chair of the state GOP, had run an extremely close race in 1998 against an incumbent Governor and scored an upset victory in 2002. Amid a toxic environment for her party in 2006 she easily was reelected. But fast forward to 2012 and the partisan affiliation of the state stood firm as it rejected her for US Senate. Idaho, by contrast, last elected a Democratic Governor in 1994 but unlike Hawaii has not put a minority party candidate in office since. Oh, and Idaho has not voted Democratic for President since 1968.
While both states have strongly partisan roots and affiliations, even more so at the federal level, both have dallied with minority party Congressmen. In 2008, Democrat Walt Minnick beat unpopular Bill Sali by less than 2% for the 1st Congressional District. Minnick was subsequently defeated in 2010 by over 10%. Republicans scored an upset victory in a 2010 special election for the Hawaiian 1st CD with Charles Djou. Notably, Djou notched only 39.4% of the vote in the special election and lost in his bid for reelection in 2010. However, if a new poll is to be believed out of HI-1, Djou leads the race. It took extraordinary circumstances for both of these Congressman to be elected and despite their conservative and liberal voting records their partisan labels were just too much to overcome in the next cycle.
This does not bold well for Republican Cam Cavasso in Hawaii, running against Lt. Governor Brian Schatz for US Senate. Likewise, lawyer Nels Mitchell in Idaho is a longshot against Republican Jim Risch. At the Congressional level, in Hawaii Djou announced he was running again in 2014. At least he is a known commodity. In Idaho, Democrats have a state representative, Shirley Ringo, running against Raul Labrador (ID-1) and former Congressman Richard Stallings against Mike Simpson (ID-2). Either would be lucky to notch 40% of the vote in their contests.
As referenced above both parties are more buoyant about their gubernatorial chances. Hawaii Republicans are optimistic about 2010 gubernatorial nominee and former Lingle Lt. Governor Duke Aiona. Aiona has name ID and a robust campaign apparatus. But their real reason for being so excited is because the Democratic vote is likely to be split between Democratic nominee David Ige (who crushed Governor Mike Ambercrombie in the party’s primary) and Honolulu mayor Mufi Hanneman who is running as an Independent. Hanneman is running to Ige’s left and forcing the Democrat to move further left while Aiona has so far had the luxury of locking in the state’s conservative base and wooing moderates.
Idaho Democrats are not as lucky as the Hawaiian GOP. But they do have one factor going for them. The Idaho GOP is a split party that has been damaged due to ideological differences. Otter hails from the more moderate conservative wing of the party and has struggled to pull in full GOP support. While Otter favors more traditional GOP positions, other members of the party favor a more independent, aggressive approach to dealing with federal regulations and lands. So far in the campaign the debate between Otter and Balukoff has come down to funding over education and cronyism. However, while polls have shown Aiona with a chance in Hawaii, the few polls out of Idaho show Balukoff well behind Otter and the Governor hitting or exceeding the magic 50% mark.
Still, both Idaho Democrats and Hawaiian Republicans represent proof that even minority parties cling to hope. However, it is far more likely that after November 4th Hawaii Republicans will be celebrating a bigger victory than Idaho Democrats.