In 2014, Republican Governor Butch Otter won a decisive 15 point, 53.52% to 38.55%, victory over deep-pocketed Democrat A.J. Balukoff.  

His third-term win was part of the GOP’s combined Idaho and national wave which resulted in the party winning every statewide Idaho race and the U.S. Senate.

But, there is more to his win than merely riding the Republican tsunami. Some insight can be garnered by focusing where his 65,849 vote margin derived. Overall, the returns demonstrate pockets of strength and weakness rather than an evenly spread victory margin.  Based upon data from the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, I have prepared the following charts which illustrate the role geography played in the 2014 gubernatorial results.  

The first one groups the Otter margin by the various major regions of the state.

Otter Vote by Region of Idaho

Region

Otter Margin

Percent of Overall Otter Margin

East Idaho

25,729

39.07%

Magic Valley

10,425

15.83%

Treasure Valley

13,512

20.52%

North Idaho

16,183

24.58%

    TOTAL

65,849

100.00%

 

Of note, East Idaho and North Idaho together constituted nearly 65% of Otter’s total statewide margin.  Republican strength in East Idaho is not an earth-shattering revelation.  But, I remember when North Idaho returns doomed GOP candidates for Governor, cementing the elections of Democratic Governors John Evans and Cecil Andrus.  Today, North Idaho has been transformed into a key Republican stronghold, driven by the decline of labor unions and an influx of move-ins.

In contrast, the highly populous Treasurer Valley, with nearly half of the state’s voting population, only contributed a bit more than 20% of the Governor’s victory margin. That is region where Idaho Democrats are far more competitive than the state as a whole.

Still another way of looking at the 2014 race is to view Otter’s relative strength county by county. For instance, Otter’s strongest 10 counties, by vote margin, were:

Top 10 Otter Counties by Vote Margin

County

Otter Margin

Canyon

13,588

Kootenai

10,444

Bonneville

5,918

Twin Falls

4,546

Bingham

3,783

Jefferson

3,670

Madison

3,189

Cassia

2,670

Bonner

2,497

Payette

2,484

 

The takeaway: An amazing 36% of Otter’s victory derived from just two counties, Canyon County, where he was born, and Kootenai County.

His weakest performance was registered in the following 10 counties:

 

Bottom 10 Otter Counties by Vote Margin

County

Otter Margin

Ada

-10,940

Blaine

-1,962

Latah

-1,779

Teton

-299

Bannock

-73

Clark

119

Camas

148

Nez Perce

227

Lewis

234

Shoshone

275

 

Yet, this set includes some surprises.  Democrats were pleased to at least win Idaho’s largest county, Ada.  And, Otter supporters should cheer the surprisingly narrow margin in Nez Perce (Lewiston area) and Bannock (Pocatello) which have historically been key Democratic strongholds.

Still another way of scrutinizing the contest is look how Otter performed in Idaho’s urban centers and its rural areas.  Here is Otter’s winning margin in the 10 largest counties (based upon the 2010 census):

 

Otter Margin in the 10 Largest Idaho Counties

County (from largest to smallest)

Otter Margin

Ada

-10,940

Canyon

13,588

Kootenai

10,440

Bonneville

5,918

Bannock

-73

Twin Falls

4,546

Bingham

3,783

Bonner

2,497

Nez Perce

227

Madison

3,189

   TOTAL MARGIN

33,175

 

Overall, the top 10 counties in Idaho generated a bit more than half of the overall Otter margin.  That means the other half of Otter’s margin came from the 34 smallest counties. I interpret that as meaning that Otter drew nearly equally from both Idaho’s urban centers and rural areas.

Idaho’s next governor’s race in 2018.  Potential candidates from both parties should review the 2014 results to help chart a path to victory.

Note:  Full results can be viewed at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Website, http://www.sos.idaho.gov/elect/RESULTS/2014/General/governor_and_lt_governor_by_county.html

Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com).  He has an extensive background in politics and public policy. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..