Republican Sherri Ybarra captured the state superintendent’s race Tuesday — in a narrow election that wasn’t settled until Wednesday morning.
With all 965 Idaho precincts counted, the Mountain Home administrator held a 5,700-vote advantage in unofficial results. Ybarra collected 216,961 votes, or 50.7 percent, to Idaho Falls Democrat’s Jana Jones’ 211,246 votes.
In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Ybarra said she would immediately begin working with with outgoing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna on her transition to office.
“First I want to thank my family for standing by my side and for all of their love and support,” Ybarra said. “I want to give a huge thank you to all of my supporters in Idaho for the most humbling experience of my career and life. I am honored and proud because they have entrusted me with the position of ‘chief of schools’ and I will do everything I can to defend that trust. I also want to thank my opponent for her hard work running a statewide campaign. It isn’t easy, so thank you Jana Jones. I am excited about moving education forward for Idaho’s students.”
Even as the polls closed Tuesday night, Ybarra appeared confident.
“I’ve had lots of positive comments and it looks good,” Ybarra said before any results came in. “It’s exciting.”
Ybarra is a federal programs and curriculum director in the Mountain Home School District. Throughout her 17-year career in the district, she has worked as a classroom teacher, vice principal and principal.
Jones was also optimistic earlier in the evening.
“It feels really good standing in front of this large crowd,” Jones said after stepping off stage at The Grove Hotel’s Democratic headquarters.
Jones said she would continue to watch the polls all night because “this is Idaho.”
“We’ve just got to watch for every vote that is coming in and just take it one step at a time,” Jones said at midnight. “Until all the votes are in, it’s really anybody’s game.”
The final 46 precincts to report were all located in Ada County — the state’s largest population district. Election workers continued to count ballots throughout the night and into the morning, as curious residents were able to watch them work via a webcam.
In order to advance to Tuesday’s general election, Ybarra beat out a field of three other Republicans in May’s primary election. Although she claimed just 28.7 percent of the vote in May, she edged out a field that included American Falls principal Randy Jensen, Cottonwood music teacher John Eynon and Melba Superintendent Andy Grover.
During the campaign, Jones raised and spent more money on the race than Ybarra. Through late October, Jones reported spending $101,790 to Ybarra’s $31,880.
Nevertheless, Ybarra has always maintained she is an educator first — not a politician — and that Idahoans identified with her classroom experience and perspective.
“I took a different approach and I got a different result,” Ybarra said after her primary victory.
On Saturday, the national polling group Public Policy Polling had the race in a dead heat. In that poll of 1,001 likely voters, Ybarra held a 46-45 over Jones – with 9 percent of respondents still undecided.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. local time across Idaho.
In the meantime, the candidates joined party loyalists and other politicians at rallies in Boise. Jones spoke to supporters at the Democrats’ watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise just before 10 p.m., while Ybarra made her way to the Republican watch headquarters at the Riverside Hotel after spending time with her family.
Party officials and candidates closed down each campaign watch party just before 1 a.m. Wednesday — before either candidate could claim victory in the state superintendent’s race.
Jones’ loss, marks the second time she has fallen just short of being elected state superintendent. In 2006, she lost to Luna, 51 percent to 49 percent — falling by a 11,158-vote margin.