At a glance
Electoral votes: 4 | Solid McCain
R Craig R Crapo
Idaho State House:
Idaho State Senate:
Presidential election history:
Idaho is likely to go red in the presidential race, and red in almost every race below that level, though there are whiffs of uncertainty in races for a U.S. House seat and a U.S. Senate seat.
The closest high-stakes race will likely be for the 1st District U.S. House seat. The Democrats are running a clear centrist, Walt Minnick -- a former timber company executive and former Republican -- against a hard-line Republican incumbent, Bill Sali. Sali, an in-your-face Christian-values politician, has held the office for only one term, and he hasn't accomplished much, while committing gaffes, insulting Muslims and Hindus and obese people. Years ago, a leading Idaho Republican famously called Sali an idiot, and these days Minnick calls Sali "lunatic fringe." Among the national forces focusing on the race: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running radio ads for Minnick, while Freedom's Watch, a group funded by conservative Las Vegas casino baron Sheldon Adelson, is doing radio ads for Sali. Given the redness of Idaho, Minnick is an underdog, but he'll do OK in northern Idaho's logging country, the University of Idaho area and the district's portions of metro Boise, making it a real race.
Meanwhile, Idaho has an open seat in the U.S. Senate (incumbent Republican Sen. Larry Craig is mired in scandal and not running). The Senate race has five candidates still in the running, three of whom are spoilers -- former Republicans Rex Rammell, running as an independent; Kent Marmon, now with the Libertarian Party; and a independent who's changed his name to "Pro-Life" to attract those voters.
The spoilers demonstrate the fractured nature of the Republican Party, and if they siphon off enough conservative votes, Democrat Larry LaRocco could win the Senate seat. LaRocco already has experience in the U.S. House, having served four years in the early 1990s -- the last Idaho Democrat to reach Congress. But the bona fide Republican in the Senate race, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, is still favored. Risch, who beat LaRocco by 18 points in the race for lieutenant governor in 2006, seems to have LaRocco's number.
Idaho's other U.S. House seat, held for five terms by Republican Mike Simpson, will almost certainly remain red. Simpson, a jack Mormon who likes occasional glasses of wine and cigarettes, sports cars and flashy neckties -- and who sometimes quotes French novelist Marcel Proust and other wise men -- is immensely popular in his district, drawing support from faithful Mormons, independents and even some environmentalists. Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Idaho Legislature ever since Paul Bunyan-types did the logging with mega-axes. Or anyway it seems that long (actually, the Democrats ran both chambers in 1959, although since then, they've shrunk to a tiny minority). But as Boise and its suburbs become more diverse, Democrats have begun to pick up seats in the metro area in recent elections. Now the Democrats hold seven of the 35 seats in the Idaho Senate, and 19 of the 70 seats in the Idaho House. Come November, they'll probably pick up a bit more ground in the metro area. They'll still be a fairly powerless party in the Legislature, but each gain provides them a tad more leverage (and reduces their need for anti-depressants).
Idaho has no ballot measures this time. Three campaigns -- by folks who don't like wolves, folks who want to end judges' immunity from lawsuits over their rulings, and folks who want to give Idaho voters the power to decide whether to build coal-fired and nuclear power plants -- failed to gather enough signatures to quality for the ballot.