I’ll start this post off with some good news for Democrats. You did well in Ada County. AJ Balukoff, Holli Woodings and Jana Jones all won the county. The party held every one of their legislative seats. Richard Stallings actually won the portion of the 2nd CD that is in Ada County. But now comes the bad news. It did not matter. No Democrat won statewide or federal office in Idaho.
It should not have been this way for the party. Despite lacking a deep bench the party found Balukoff, a self-made businessman and education guru. Jana Jones looked like an intellectual next to Ybarra and Woodings was the perfect contrast to a good ole’ boy conservative. But, as liberals have said on my social media trying to explain away the election, “Idaho voters are so stupid. I mean, c’mon, Sherri Ybarra? Butch Otter again? All these people do is vote for anybody with an R next to their name.” I am paraphrasing. They might have a point. But they refuse to acknowledge a deeper point let alone ask the most important question, “why is our brand so toxic in Idaho?”
Look at Otter and Ybarra. Both ran less than impressive campaigns. Ybarra fibbed about her job achievements and martial status. Otter was accused of multiple scandals and did not have a cohesive defense of his record. Yet, short of five counties (Ada, Latah, Blaine Bannock and Teton), both romped to victory. The biggest surprise might be Ybarra’s win. Tied to Luna at the hip and despite the facts she supported Tiered Licensure and the Luna Laws she still won by over 5,000 votes.
In the short-term Democrats will probably blame Jones debate skills or the lack of a ground game for Balukoff. They will probably write off Woodings loss as the result of the state’s stereotype of North Enders. But long-term if Democrats cling to these ideas they will never achieve much of anything in the state. Just look at some of the mistakes Democrats made that raised worries for voters.
Jones spoke glowingly of the IEA. She also supported Common Core and only gave a passing reference to ideas like giving local districts flexibility. Jones had the experience but when she spoke of the IEA so positively it raised worries among voters about how much she would advocate for kids as opposed to teacher interests. Woodings made her campaign a referendum on the GOP’s closed primary. Is it a wonder she didn’t win? You can’t win an election when you start off by alienating half the state’s electorate. Balukoff championed reform on education which I suspect many voters liked. But he also supported hiking the minimum wage (big government tell you what to do) and was vague on how to fund his K-12 initiatives.
Democrats will probably eke out a victory in one or two legislative races in Nez Perce and Latah counties but they will do so amid a pol. The party failed to take down a GOP legislator who urinated in public and another who stopped campaigning midway through the general before changing his mind. Indeed, Otter probably dragged down the GOP ticket in Ada Canyon. Didn’t matter. The Democrats inability to connect to voters outside Ada and Blaine counties ensured statewide GOP victories.
If Democrats were honest with themselves they would probably ask what they need to do to rehabilitate their image. Maybe they need to turn rightward and appear like the center-right party, not the far-right party. Perhaps they should drop their emphasis on the minimum wage and instead pivot to the idea of economic empowerment. Their best bet is probably to stop denigrating the very people they need support from. But they won’t. At the end of the day Idaho Democrats are in the position they are in because for the last 20 years they have refused to accept that Idaho is not merely a deeply conservative state, but a deeply Republican state!