The closed Idaho primary election was the big loser yesterday. Most Idahoans – maybe close to 80% of the eligible voters – voted with their remote controls and stayed at home in front of the television rather than visit the polls and be forced for the first time to declare a party affiliation.
The Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey quotes Secretary of State Ben Ysursa today as saying, “Our biggest Election Day question used to be, ‘Where do I vote?’ Today, 90 percent of the calls we got were people upset about the closed primary and the party declaration being a public record.”
The extra partisan Republicans who pushed so hard for so long to close the primary may have forgotten that the enduring characteristic of the Idaho electorate in independence and privacy. Idahoans of either party, or no party, of the Libertarian Party, don’t like to be told what to do. They like choices, multiple choices, even if the vast majority of the time they end up punching the card for a Republican. The closed primary feels like an intrusion.
There were numerous sharply contested races – most in the Republican primary – yesterday and in most cases incumbents won. Where they didn’t, in Elmore and Kootenai Counties, for instance, there were mostly local reasons. So it is difficult to define any broad theme to the results yesterday beyond one of the oldest truths in politics, as Idaho Public Television’s Greg Hahn points out, “The power of incumbency is great.”
I’m left to ponder if Idaho Democrats – we know who they are now – will find a way to capitalize on the widespread lack of enthusiasm for the changes in the way we select candidates? A tiny sliver of sunshine for Democrats may exist in the spirited, but clean legislative primary races run in Ada County. Two young, committed first time candidates won contested primaries, for example, in District 19 in Boise’s reliably Democratic North End and they won the old fashion way – shoe leather, good messages, networking and endorsements.
If Idaho Democrats are ever to begin the long slog back to something like relevance, it will be because of committed, attractive younger candidates and a long-term strategy to woo Hispanics, college kids and the high tech community. Idaho Democrats need to re-invent themselves for the 21st Century. At least after yesterday, they have a place to start – a few thousands names of folks who actually stood up publicly and said: “I’m voting Democratic.”