Analysis: Tuesday’s general election still has the feel of a Republican primary

Yes, Tuesday is Idaho’s general election.

With the feel of a Republican primary.

Join us Tuesday night — and into Wednesday — for comprehensive election coverage. The up-to-the-minute vote. Full coverage of the state superintendent’s race. Live blogging and instant analysis.

The divisions and the disputes within the Idaho GOP will go a long way toward determining next week’s winners. And up and down the ticket, the results will tell us a lot about the state’s predominant — but splintered — political party.

Governor. Nothing here suggests a close race. Republican incumbent Brad Little appears to be coasting to a second term.

But watch the margins Tuesday night. And watch how independent candidate and serial protester Ammon Bundy fares. If Bundy’s share of the vote clears 10%, which isn’t out of the question, that would signal some lingering unrest on the right. And that could weaken his position heading into the 2023 Legislature — and beyond.

Attorney general. No statewide race has exposed the split within the Idaho GOP more than this one. Boise attorney Tom Arkoosh — who voted in the Republican primary in May and entered the race as a Democrat in July — is banking on crossover appeal. He has secured endorsements from a host of big-name Republicans, such as former Gov. Phil Batt, former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former attorney general and Supreme Court justice Jim Jones.

If Arkoosh pulls the upset — and he’d be the first Democrat to win the a.g.’s race since 1990 — his unexpected win could provide the playbook for future candidates.

If Republican Raúl Labrador wins, the margin still matters. A win with a 60% landslide would represent a strong mandate from the right and a sharp rebuke of the mainstream Republicans who supported Arkoosh. And perhaps, it positions Labrador for another gubernatorial run in 2026.

A narrow win isn’t nearly the same look for Labrador.

It’s quite possible that both Little and Labrador win on Tuesday — and still underperform, compared to expectations.

State superintendent. Democrats nearly won this race in 2014 and 2018. Both times, Republican Sherri Ybarra won despite running low-key and low-budget campaigns.

After ousting Ybarra in May, Republican Debbie Critchfield has continued to run a highly visible campaign, padding a considerable fundraising edge over Democrat Terry Gilbert.

Perhaps that all adds up to a Critchfield win, and not much of a nailbiter. Unless the school choice issue changes the equation.

Gilbert is campaigning hard against the forces he calls “voucher vultures,” and that rhetoric will shore up his support among Democrats. Critchfield’s position on school choice is nuanced — or, her critics might say, tortured. Will this cost Critchfield support from conservatives who prefer a hardliner-friendly GOP education platform, and skip voting in this race entirely?

SJR 102. The constitutional amendment could be the darkhorse race to watch Tuesday night. This amendment would allow the Legislature to call itself back into session, rather than having to wait on orders from the governor.

The 2021 Legislature passed SJR 102 with only a smattering of Republican opposition. But don’t be fooled. This issue pits the next generation of the Idaho GOP against its old guard.

New state party chair Dorothy Moon, a former legislator, paints the amendment as a “meaningful separation of powers.” Republican critics — including former Gov. Butch Otter and former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, among others — label it a big-government power grab.

The state Senate. All 105 legislative seats are on the ballot — but 48 candidates are running unopposed, leaving a scarcity of compelling Statehouse races.

But four competitive races in swing districts are really important, since they’ll go a long way toward determining the balance of power in the Senate.

Republicans are running conservatives in three of these races: former Sen. Dan Foreman in a Moscow-area district; Rep. Codi Galloway in West Boise; former mayoral candidate David Worley in a Pocatello-based district. (The Republican Senate nominee in the fourth swing district, Rep. Laurie Lickley of Jerome, is getting heat from both sides. Planned Parenthood is attacking Lickley’s votes on anti-abortion legislation, while some conservatives dismiss Lickley as a left-leaning Republican who will support the Senate’s moderate status quo,)

Wins from Foreman, Galloway or Worley would continue the Senate’s conservative shift, which began with a series of upsets in the May GOP primary. These wins could also affect the outcome of Senate leadership elections in December, moving the caucus to the right. And these wins would illustrate that conservatives can win legislative races in places such as Latah, Ada or Bannock counties, where successful Republican candidates have tended to skew moderate.

Community college trustee races. It’s hard to believe that races for these nonpartisan, volunteer seats have become political battlegrounds, but here we are.

A trio of contentious trustee races could recast the volatile politics at North Idaho College — again. Four College of Western Idaho trustee races pit a status quo slate, including three incumbents, against a hardline group of challengers running as a Republican team.

Kootenai County is the O.G. epicenter for trustee turbulence. Three GOP-endorsed candidates were elected in November 2020 — leading to the firing of a president, an exodus of senior staff and ongoing questions about NIC’s accreditation. This time around, defenders of NIC are launching a spendy campaign opposing the current slate of GOP-endorsed trustee candidates.

After the 2020 NIC races, and a series of legislative upsets in May, these trustee races have almost an existential feel. They could represent an attempt by moderates to wrest away supremacy of what is now a conservative-controlled county.

The stakes may not be as high in the Treasure Valley, But Idaho’s Future PAC, formed on Oct. 21, has quickly raised $52,000 to campaign for the status quo candidates, and against the candidates running as a GOP ticket. “What is the impetus for change?” asked Todd Cranney, the PAC’s chairman.

Cranney, a Republican, says his group views the trustee races as nonpartisan. But its big-money donors include former gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist and Boisean Larry Williams — a well-heeled, and frequently conservative, GOP donor.

In Idaho politics in 2022, every election divides Republicans, to some degree. Tuesday’s vote tallies will attach some numbers to this divide.

Each week, Kevin Richert writes an analysis on education policy and education politics. Look for it every Thursday.

 

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]

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