Much of Idaho has been reliably Republican territory since the turn of the 21st century. However, exceptions have always existed to this rule. Lewiston and Boise stand as stark examples. Lewiston has largely had a mixed legislative constituency of Republicans and Democrats. Likewise, Boise’s districts have often been the scene of close, hard-fought legislative elections.
But recently, demographic and political change has hit Boise and the nation. Whereas Boise’s legislative districts used to be close battlegrounds they are now almost all uniformly solid Democratic districts. The exception is District 18 and it is still hard to not call the district a Democratic leaning area (thanks North Enders). Meanwhile, as Boise’s formerly competitive metro districts have gotten bluer, Idaho’s suburbs and rural areas have only gotten redder. Consider, in 2002 Idaho Republicans held one legislative seat in D-16, two in D-17 and total control of D-18. Today, Republicans hold no seats in those three districts. Likewise, where Democrats held two seats in North Idaho and several seats in SE Idaho they control none today (minus Sun Valley).
Idaho’s rural and suburban turn to the red column is not an isolated incident. Nationally, Rural and suburban areas, particularly in the South and Midwest, have become increasingly Republican. Today, this explains why Republicans running statewide can perform so weakly in the blue leaning states of Colorado and Iowa’s metro areas and still be competitive. In larger states, such as TX and GA, Republicans have become increasingly reliant on the rural vote. One day Republicans will have to reckon with their weakness in metro areas in the latter states. Probably not so much Idaho.
Like the nation, Idaho’s minority and Democratic vote has increased. But, so has the Republican vote. Worse, at least from the Democratic perspective, split ticket voting has all but disappeared in Idaho. Hence, a circumstance where a Democrat could be elected Governor and the Republicans control the legislature (aka, 1970-1994), is extremely unlikely today. Further, it means Democratic legislative candidates cannot win former split districts. Again, this follows a national trend.
Consider the 2012 Presidential election. Only a single GOP Senator (Dean Heller) was elected in a state Barack Obama won (Nevada). Mitt Romney’s and GOP candidates losses geographically can be chalked up to massive losses in virtually every urban area of the country. Idaho was no exception. Mitt Romney carried every legislative district in the state except for 16, 17, 18 and 19. All are urban Boise districts and all with full Democratic delegations.
Republicans hope national trends aid their efforts in close fought battlegrounds while Idaho Republicans hope disappointment in Obama leads to lower turnout in metro Boise. How realistic such a hope is for Idaho Republicans remains unclear. In 2010, Idaho Republicans could only net two seats in D-18 and no seats elsewhere in Boise, In 12, Democrats took both those seats back by commanding margins.
Perhaps this year will be the year where Republicans make inroads among urban voters. Perhaps not. But even if Republicans do make inroads among urban voters they must prove they can hold their support in Presidential years. To expand their legislative majorities, Idaho Republicans must prove the same.