By Clark Corbin
Idaho Capital Sun
The campaign trail is crowded at the top of the ticket with almost a dozen candidates challenging the incumbent governor just as Idaho moves into state fair season.
But here’s the thing: They’re not running for election this year. They’re already running for next year.
With six months remaining until the official window for filing a declaration of candidacy ahead of the 2022 statewide primaries opens, several races are already red-hot.
“It looks to be potentially a very busy, active primary,” Boise State University Associate Professor of Political Science Jaclyn Kettler said. “It looks like we will have a good number of contested primaries, at least on the Republican side.”
Idaho’s 2022 election has far-reaching implications for the future of the state: Idahoans will elect a governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, treasurer and state controller.
On top of that, all 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature (70 in the Idaho House of Representatives and 35 in the Idaho Senate) are up for election.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is challenging Gov. Brad Little (who has not yet announced his re-election plans) from within the Republican Party.
McGeachin’s challenge creates an open seat for lieutenant governor, which has served as a final stepping stone to the governor’s office and Congress in recent decades. Predictably, that race is already getting competitive.
Far-right candidates, including an anti-federal government activist who isn’t registered to vote, are making a push for the state’s highest offices.
There are ideological splits within the Republican Party.
Who is running in Idaho and where do things stand?
As of Aug. 2, 12 candidates have taken the preliminary step of running for governor in 2022 by appointing a campaign treasurer. There are nine Republicans: McGeachin, Steven Bradshaw, Ammon Bundy, Lisa Marie, Chris Hammond, Edward Humphreys, Jeff Cotton, Cody Usabel and Little, who has not officially announced a re-election campaign.
There are also two unaffiliated candidates, who will not run in the primaries: John Dionne and Robert Dempsay.
Melissa Sue Robinson is the only Democrat to have appointed a campaign treasurer in the race for governor.
If all Republican candidates follow through and make it on the primary ballot, this would already be the most crowded GOP gubernatorial primary in more than 20 years, according to data on file with the Idaho secretary of state’s office.
In the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary, there were seven candidates. Little won with 37.3% of the vote, beating second-place finisher former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who captured 32.6% of the vote.
In the 2014 GOP gubernatorial primary there were four candidates, in 2010 there were six, in 2006 there were four, in 2002 there were four and in 1998 there were two.
The governor’s race isn’t the only competitive primary shaping up.
There are three Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor, all of them with political experience, including Speaker of the Idaho House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird; and former state Rep. Luke Malek, R- Coeur d’Alene.
On Aug. 3, the House Ethics and House Policy Committee voted unanimously to recommend the Idaho House censure Giddings for conduct unbecoming of a legislator and strip her of her seat on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, one of three committee assignments she has.
Getting an early start on a statewide run for office isn’t a new trend this cycle. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist announced on March 1, 2017 that he was running for governor — more than a year before the 2018 Republican primary.
Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady announced in a March 26, 2005 interview with the Associated Press that he would run again for governor in 2006.
And not everyone who announces a campaign makes it all the way through to the primary election. In November 2005, current U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, dropped out of the governor’s race and instead ran for re-election as lieutenant governor, a campaign he won.
What is the Republican outlook?
Idaho Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna said the GOP is looking to increase its 86-19 supermajority in the Legislature, grow party registration and have successful election outcomes at all levels of government.
“There is definitely more interest in more races and definitely more passion and involvement early across the state,” Luna said in a telephone interview. “As I travel the state and attend political meetings, it’s standing-room only, it’s record crowds. We’re seeing people we haven’t seen in a while who haven’t been engaged, and we’re seeing people that are new, who we have never met.”
Much of the excitement among Republicans in Idaho has to do with concerns at the federal level, Luna said. The Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2009-2010, the first two years of former President Barack Obama’s first term.
“There is no doubt that so much has changed in the last six months economically and internationally, with the situation at the border, those are the things we hear people talking about. Gasoline prices that are through the roof, inflation — all those things that a typical family spends the majority of its money on.
“In Idaho, people are asking me how we can become involved to make sure Republicans take over the House of Representatives in 2022 and how we get involved to make sure Republicans take back the Senate in 2022,” Luna added. “They recognize the battle for U.S. House and Senate seats isn’t going to be in Idaho, it’s going to be elsewhere, but they want to engage.”
The Idaho Republican Party has pushed back against Bundy’s gubernatorial campaign, with Luna pointing out that Bundy isn’t registered to vote and isn’t affiliated with the Republican Party.
Luna predicted Bundy’s presence in the gubernatorial race would have “very little impact.”
“I think it’s a fundraising opportunity for him and his family in the way that it was when his brother [Ryan Bundy] ran for governor in Nevada and I think got 2%,” Luna said. “Having said that, everybody has access to the ballot and anybody can run. I think my statement made it clear Republican resources will be focused on registered Republicans and those who have registered and participated in the party.”
What are the Democrats’ plans?
The Idaho Democratic Party is rebuilding after losing two Boise-based Idaho House seats to Republicans during the most recent election in 2020.
Democrats named new leadership within the party, selecting Fred Cornforth as party chairman in March and hiring former Obama campaign organizer Jared DeLoof as executive director in May.
DeLoof said the focal points for 2022 are picking up seats in the Legislature, putting forward quality candidates to run for each statewide office and recruiting candidates to offer Idahoans choices and competitive races up and down the ballot across the state.
DeLoof pointed out the superintendent of public instruction races have been the most competitive statewide races in recent years. It’s also the last statewide post held by an Idaho Democrat; Marilyn Howard was re-elected as schools chief in 2002.
The last Idaho Democrat elected governor was the late Cecil Andrus, who is the state’s longest serving governor and won a fourth term in 1990.
DeLoof thinks the tide could turn though.
“We are seeing a lot of interest and a lot of people do not like what they saw in the last legislative session and they are stepping up,” DeLoof said in a telephone interview. “There is probably half of the Republican caucus that is far outside the mainstream of what actual Idahoans believe in, and it’s some really extreme stuff.”
So far that interest hasn’t translated to a raft of progressive candidates. But DeLoof said it is coming. He said he’s talked to a couple of candidates who “will probably toss their hat in the ring” in the race for governor. He also thinks prospective legislative candidates are waiting to step forward until the state finishes the redistricting process of redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
“We will leave no stone unturned and not turn away from any fight,” DeLoof said. “We are moving ahead and growing our party and building every day.”
What are things to watch for?
From a political science perspective Kettler, the Boise State University professor, said there are several interesting things she will be watching as the 2022 campaigns and elections play out.
One of them is an ideological split within the Republican Party.
“We’ve got ideological splits within the party; we can identify in several of these primary races, those kinds of factions,” Kettler said. “We have kind of the more establishment conservatives of the Republican Party — think of your Littles, your Bedkes, those type candidates. Then you have what seem to be farther right challenges coming from farther right of the spectrum — McGeachin or Giddings or those types of candidates.”
Kettler said the differences show how the candidates or elected officials approach the role of government.
“Obviously Republicans tend to prefer smaller, more limited government, but there are some disagreements over almost seeming to share a more anti-government view that would be more favorable for defunding elements of our state or local government,” Kettler said.
Kettler will watch the governor’s race closely and is interested in seeing what Bundy’s impact on the race will be.
“It will be interesting to see how much support he does end up having for his campaign,” she said. “His supporters are very vocal and involved, but don’t appear to be a huge proportion of the population.
“I’m interested in McGeachin and Bundy both being in the race and if they are competing for some of the same voters,” Kettler added. “You would think with their ideology there might be some overlap between their voters. But how they differentiate between each other will also be interesting.”
Aside from Bundy and McGeachin’s presence at the top of the ticket, Kettler said it’s notable that Little has drawn as many challengers as he has, given his status as an incumbent from the dominant party and the fact that Idaho is sitting on a record state budget surplus.
“Usually with a great economy and especially with an incumbent, incumbents don’t face especially strong primary challenges,” Kettler said. “But so far it appears to be a very active race.”
Kettler said there could be multiple reasons for the crowd of challengers, including general frustration with the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, ideological splits already present within the party and the realities of supermajority dominance in Idaho that often force Republicans to challenge each other if they hope to move up to higher office.
The primary elections are expected to take place May 17. But the primaries could be delayed if the state’s redistricting process bogs down or winds up in a drawn out court battle, preventing state and county election officials from enough information to print up ballots well in advance of the primary election.
This story was produced by the Idaho Capital Sun, an independent, nonprofit online news organization delivering in-depth coverage from veteran Idaho reporters on state government and policy. The Idaho Capitol Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit funded by tax-free donations in 22 states. Learn more and follow daily updates at idahocapitalsun.com and statesnewsroom.com.
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