Little rolls in GOP primary; Bedke, Labrador, McGrane lead in final state count

Gov. Brad Little rolled to a resounding victory in Tuesday’s Republican Party primary.

And by 10:20 p.m. MDT — barely an hour after polls closed in North Idaho — the Associated Press called the race for Little, who is seeking his second term.

Based on unofficial but statewide counts from the secretary of state’s office, Idaho’s other statewide races came into sharp focus Wednesday morning.

Former State Board of Education president Debbie Critchfield unseated two-term incumbent state superintendent Sherri Ybarra and held off former legislator Branden Durst.

House Speaker Scott Bedke won comfortably in the GOP lieutenant governor’s race.

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador ousted 20-year incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane appeared to secure a narrow win in the secretary of state’s race.

Tuesday’s vote brought to an end an often-bitter battle within the Republican Party. Across the state and up and down the ticket, mainstream Republicans and hardline conservatives sought to seize control of the state’s prevailing political party.

Nominees will appear on the general election ballot in November.

A contentious governor’s primary ends in a rout

Little took a big lead from the first returns Tuesday night, and the landslide never slowed down.

Little led the eight-person field with 53% of the vote. Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin was a distant second, at 32%, and Eagle Republican Ed Humphreys was third at 11%.

The blowout brought a testy primary to an anticlimactic conclusion.

The animosity between Little and McGeachin began to escalate well before May 2021, when McGeachin announced her gubernatorial bid. From the spring of 2020, McGeachin sharply criticized Little’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and in 2021, she twice tried to use her authority as acting governor to issue executive orders banning mask mandates or vaccine requirements.

In 2021, McGeachin assembled a task force to root out indoctrination in schools. The group met through the summer but did not produce any concrete policy.

The Democratic primary has been turbulent as well. Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad launched a write-in bid after failing to change his party affiliation before filing campaign paperwork. David Reilly also filed as a write-in; last fall, Reilly ran a failed campaign for Post Falls School Board, with local Republican backing, drawing national attention for a history of anti-Semitic tweets. Stephen Heidt of Marsing, a teacher, was the only Democrat on Tuesday’s ballot.

The secretary of state’s office said it would not release write-in numbers in the governor’s primary Tuesday night, Clark Corbin of the Idaho Capital Sun reported.

Ideological divides define other statewide primaries

The rest of Idaho’s statewide primaries also split along GOP fault lines:

  • In the race for state schools superintendent, Critchfield captured 40% of the vote, with Durst second at 34% and Ybarra at 27%. With numbers in from all 44 counties, Critchfield led Durst by more than 15,000 votes. Critchfield had pledged to bring a more focused direction to K-12, while Durst, a former Democrat running a hardline conservative race centered on school choice and parental rights. Ybarra sought to defend her eight-year record, saying national rankings, test scores and graduation rates all showed signs of improvement. (More on this race from Idaho EdNews’ Devin Bodkin.)
  • In the race to succeed McGeachin as lieutenant governor, Bedke secured 52% of the vote, and more than a 24,000-vote cushion over hardline state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, who received 42%. A third Republican, Daniel Gasiorowski, trailed with 6%. The Bedke-Giddings clash took on personal overtones. Under Bedke’s watch, the House censured Giddings in November, after she posted an article naming “Jane Doe,” the former House intern who accused former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape. (Von Ehlinger was later convicted.)
  • Pulling away as the evening unfolded. Labrador finished with 52% of the vote, more than 37,000 votes ahead of Wasden’s 39% support. Coeur d’Alene attorney Art Macomber finished at 11%. Labrador and Macomber both challenged Wasden from the right. The attorney general provides legal guidance to state agencies and lawmakers, on topics including education. Like the governor and the state superintendent, the attorney general also sits on the state Land Board, which oversees Idaho endowment lands.
  • The secretary of state’s race was the closest election of the night, narrowing as the results unfolded. Based on Wednesday morning’s count, McGrane led with 43% of the vote, holding a 4,200-vote edge over state Rep. Dorothy Moon, who finished at 41%. State Sen. Mary Souza received 16% of the vote. The secretary of state oversees Idaho elections — and in debates, but Souza and Moon questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. The secretary of state also sits on the Land Board.

It was a stunning night of legislative upheaval

As two statewide incumbents lost, Tuesday night was a rough night for legislative incumbents as well.

A stunning 20 Statehouse incumbents lost, or appeared headed to defeat:

  • Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, a member of the Senate Education Committee and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
  • Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene.
  • Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, a JFAC member.
  • Peter Riggs, R-Post Falls, a JFAC member.
  • Robert Blair, R-Kendrick. The Senate Education member lost to former Sen. Dan Foreman.
  • Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, a member of Senate Education and JFAC.
  • Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, running for a Senate seat.
  • Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; he was in a four-person primary won by Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.
  • Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, vice chairman of the House Education Committee.
  • Scott Syme, R-Wilder, now trailing Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a House Education member. The margin: six votes.
  • Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, running for a Senate seat.
  • Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, co-chair of JFAC.
  • Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, chairman of Senate Education, who lost to Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle.
  • Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, a House Education member.
  • Fred Martin, R-Boise, who lost to Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, in a hotly contested primary.
  • Greg Ferch, R-Boise, who lost a head-to-head primary with Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Meridian.
  • Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls.
  • Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, who lost to former Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan.
  • Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, who lost to former Rep. Britt Raybould by a narrow 36 votes.
  • Chad Christenen, R-Ammon.

The turnover didn’t follow any one pattern.

Woodward and Crabtree were among several more moderate lawmakers who lost to conservative challengers.

By the same token, Nate and Hanks were among several hardliners who lost to moderates.

And some of the turnover was the result of redistricting. The new legislative map forced four head-to-head matchups, such as the Grow-Thayn primary.

The turnover will have a profound impact on committees that shape education policy.

Senate Education lost four of its nine members, including Thayn, its chairman.

House Education lost another two members, including Kerby, its vice chairman. And four other House Education members were already stepping aside.

And seven JFAC Republicans lost, including Agenbroad, the Senate’s co-chair, and Crabtree, the Senate vice chair. With another four members already stepping aside, that means at least 11 of JFAC’s 20 members will be newcomers.

Tuesday’s turmoil only adds to the churn in the Legislature.

Even before primary night, it was clear the 2023 Legislature would look much different than the 2022 model. With high-profile retirements on both sides of the aisle, several lawmakers running for state office, and several head-to-head races forced by redistricting, at least 36 of the Legislature’s 105 seats were going to change hands.


Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Read more stories by Kevin Richert »

Republish this article on your website