In deep red Idaho, a lot would have to happen for the winner of the Democratic primary to become governor. The only chance they have, says Jasper LiCalzi, a professor of political economy at the College of Idaho, is a "Roy Moore type of situation," a massive scandal that hits months before the election making the Republican candidate unelectable.
Rather, for the Democrats, this race is for the future.
"What the Democrats should be looking at is not winning the election, but how do we create our brand going forward?" LiCalzi says. "This isn't a race for today, but for four, eight, 12 years from now."
While agricultural attorney Peter Dill is in the race, the frontrunners are A.J. Balukoff, a wealthy Boise School Board member, and Paulette Jordan, a former two-term state representative who would be the first Native American to serve as a governor.
Jordan and Balukoff have similar priorities. They both want to increase education spending, but neither would commit to raising taxes to do so, instead opting to close tax loopholes. They both want to close the gap that disqualifies many Idahoans from Medicaid. And both want to protect public lands.
Jordan is running a bit to the left of Balukoff. For example, she supports marijuana legalization, arguing it would provide money that can be spent on schools and would benefit those who would use it for medicinal purposes. Balukoff, meanwhile, says he opposes recreational marijuana.
The issues aren't much different from the 2014 gubernatorial race, says LiCalzi. Then, Balukoff ended up losing in the general election to Gov. Butch Otter after Balukoff spent $3 million of his own money on the campaign. The biggest differences between Balukoff is less to do with policy, and more in personality: You have the typical Democratic candidate in Balukoff, "an old rich guy from Boise," and Jordan, a candidate from rural Plummer, Idaho, who is energizing younger voters.
Shelby Scott, political director for the Idaho Democratic Party, generally sees it the same way. While the goal remains to win the gubernatorial race, she says it's important for Jordan or Balukoff to push Democratic priorities of higher wages, more investment in education and protection of public lands.
She encourages Democrats to vote in the primary, instead of registering as a Republican just to vote for a more moderate candidate. A moderate candidate, she says, can't be found on the Republican side.
"That candidate is going to be found in the Democratic primary," Scott says. ♦