It’s easy to assume Idaho’s Democrats are unified. After all, they are such a minority in the legislature (20%) and often ignored they tend to vote as a bloc against any high-profile GOP effort (such as abortion and Add the Words). Further, every Democrat is on record saying they would expand Medicaid and in 2013 every Democrat voted to establish a state health exchange. But repeated defeats by significant margins in every statewide race (constitutional and federal) since 2006 has left the party searching for answers and appeal to young families populating the state’s suburbs. This search has largely led to two conclusions.
The first conclusion argues until Idaho’s demographics change Democrats will lose. And if Democrats are to lose they should do so standing on principle. The second conclusion centers on a more hopeful answer; find and recruit candidates that can appeal to Idaho’s rural and suburban populations. In other words, stop nominating people from Boise and Sun Valley.
However, this is easier said than done. Since 2006, almost every statewide Democratic candidate has come from Boise. In 2010, the party’s gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred was from Boise. In 2014, only one statewide candidate did not hail from Boise, Jana Jones, and it is no coincidence she easily outran every other Democratic candidate. So perhaps Democrats would be best served by trying to move outside their geographic bases for candidates.
Honestly, the Democratic base would likely vote for a former Republican if he had a real chance at winning. Despite every legislative Democrat being pro-choice, Allred and Balukoff called themselves pro-life. They won every progressive bastion in the state. Both Allred and Balukoff opposed gay marriage. They still dominated progressive areas.
But candidate appeal is only one part of the solution. Until Idaho Democrats can divorce themselves from the national brand they can run every candidate from North Idaho and they will still lose. You don’t accomplish that by running candidates who mirror the national party’s major themes. For example, Balukoff championed hiking the minimum wage. Jana Jones spoke glowingly of the IEA and Hollingsworth attacked Republicans for closing their primary. These don’t divorce yourself from a national party that views conservative voters with disdain, allies with unions and wants to federally hike the minimum wage.
Unfortunately, the truth may be that Democrats can only do so much to overcome their disadvantages. The party is done in by its electoral base. Democrats must largely cater to urban interests whereas Republicans appeal to rural and suburban. It is hard for any Democrat to overcome the stereotype they are beholden to Boise/Sun Valley progressive interests. Still, Balukoff managed to do a credible job last year aided by the opening Otter left him on education and corruption issues.
Still, Democrats would not do themselves any harm by nominating candidates from outside Boise. After all, at this point, it can’t get any worse for Idaho Democrats.