As Goes Idaho...

What's happening in Idaho? The Gem State is one of the most solidly Republican in the country. It's a sure entry in the "red&...
by | October 31, 2006

Idaho What's happening in Idaho? The Gem State is one of the most solidly Republican in the country. It's a sure entry in the "red" column in presidential voting, and the GOP holds 54 of the 70 state House seats and all but seven state Senate seats. Yet Democrats are showing some signs of life this year, even in Idaho.

The last couple of polls in the governor's race have revealed a dead heat. One released on Saturday puts Republican Butch Otter just one percentage point ahead of Democrat Jerry Brady. Republicans hold only a narrow edge in the congressional district that Otter is vacating to run for governor. And Democrats, who haven't won a statewide or federal election in the state since the early 1990s, have a shot at state superintendent of public instruction as well.

"Idaho has been rather immune to the attitude and mood of the public across the nation," Idaho GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan told the Idaho Statesman . "But this time, based on the amount of coverage that appears to be anti-Bush and anti-war, I believe that attitude has invaded Idaho."

Something else may be going on as well. Along with the South, Republicans over the past decade have drawn a disproportionate amount of their strength from the Mountain West. That may be changing.

We've written a lot about Colorado, where Democrats appear fairly certain to add the governor's mansion to their two-year-old legislative majorities. Barring some unforeseen change in circumstances, Democratic governors will be reelected next week in New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming. Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana isn't on the ballot, but he's stumping hard to expand his party's narrow legislative majorities. That state offers Democrats one of their best chances to pick up a U.S. Senate seat, although that race is far from a done deal.

I haven't studied the reasons why the West is becoming friendlier to Democrats. Off the top of my head, I would note that voters in the Rockies, although conservative, tend to lean libertarian. They want government off their backs -- and often resent the federal government as absentee landlord of huge swaths of land in the region -- but that includes a wariness about the sort of government intrusion into private lives that plays better down South. Social issues certainly were a factor in losing the GOP its advantage in the Colorado legislature.