By Cameron Rasmusson
The 2018 Idaho midterm elections offered few local and statewide surprises with one major exception: the state’s widespread embrace of Medicaid expansion.
While the initiative benefited from bipartisan support and tireless promotion by activist group Reclaim Idaho, the outsized support of 364,861 in favor versus 237,276 against surprised even optimistic onlookers. Medicaid expansion will provide health coverage for thousands of Idahoans who earn too little money to qualify for subsidized insurance but too much money to meet Medicaid’s basic income limits.
“Tonight, these hardworking Idahoans are not forgotten; they’re not ignored, they’re not unheard or unseen,” said Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho. “Tonight, they are lawmakers, because tonight, Medicaid expansion is the law of the land.”
The GOP handily won elections for Idaho’s highest national and state offices. Brad Little is Idaho’s next governor despite an energetic opponent in Democrat Paulette Jordan, winning the election 361,671 votes to 231,065. The GOP’s Russ Fulcher won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives with 197,151 votes against Democrat Christina McNeil’s 96,909 votes. Republican Janice McGeachin won the race for lieutenant governor with 356,082 votes against Democrat Kristin Collum’s 240,292 votes. Lawerence Denney retained his office as Idaho Secretary of State with 369,893 votes against Democrat Jill Humble’s 221,939 votes. Likewise, Lawrence Wasden won another term as Idaho Attorney General, fending off a challenge from Democrat Bruce Bistline with 384,126 votes against 203,059 votes. The closest race of the night, in a 305,793-to-288,666 vote saw Republican Sherri Ybarra edging out a narrow victory for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction against Democrat Cindy Wilson.
Republicans held strong in local elections for county and state offices as well. Dan McDonald was reelected as Bonner County Commissioner for District 3, beating Democratic challenger Steve Lockwood 10,810 to 7,442, while Republican Steve Bradshaw beat Democrat Steve Johnson 11,363 to 6,825. Republican Donna Gow was elected in a 13,171-to-3,711 vote, beating independent candidate Wendel Bergman. The four-way race for two open spots on the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Board was surprisingly close, but incumbents won the day with Dale Van Stone taking 7,795 votes, Terry McGuirk taking 4,874 votes, Thomas Clark taking 4,454 votes and Allen Banks taking 3,881 votes. Clark and Banks were reclusive throughout the race, failing to provide contact information on their candidacy paperwork and ignoring media requests for interviews and candidate forum participation.
In state offices, Republican incumbents were similarly successful. Jim Woodward, endorsed by longtime Sen. Shawn Keough as her successor, won the District 1 State Senate race with 11,886 votes against Democrat Vera Gadman’s 3,968 votes. Rep. Sage Dixon was re-elected to District 1 State Representative Seat B with 13,227 votes versus Democrat Stephen Howlett’s 6,744 votes. Likewise, Rep. Heather Scott was re-elected to Seat A, taking 12,676 votes against Democrat Ellen Weissman’s 7,264 votes.
Nationwide, the 2018 midterm election failed to produce the blue wave — the swell of progressive energy sweeping Democrats into office. But neither did the oppositional red wave lauded by President Donald Trump manifest.
Democrats succeeded in taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, establishing a critical check on the Trump Administration. Republicans, meanwhile, firmed up their hold on the U.S. Senate, vital for its ability to approve presidential appointees.
While Democrats charted impressive victories — Laura Kelly bested Kris Kobach and Tony Evans beat Scott Walker in the Kansas and Wisconsin gubernatorial elections, for instance — they also suffered disappointments. The dramatic contest between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke ended in a GOP victory, and Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, lost his race to Republican Ron DeSantis. Other races may take time to conclude. An automatic recount may resolve the Florida U.S. Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson, while Democrat Stacey Abrams refuses to concede the Georgia governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp.
Regardless of the outcomes, both sides were energized by the volatile political climate of the past two years. Nationwide, an estimated 49 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast a ballot, far outstripping the dismal 2014 turnout of 36.4 percent. In Bonner County, nearly 73 percent of registered voters made their voices heard in the 2018 midterm election.
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