Idaho Falls is Idaho’s fourth largest city, only trailing Boise, Meridian and Nampa. In 2013, the city had one of the most contested mayoral elections in the state.
In July of 2012, Idaho Falls Mayor Jared Fuhriman announced he was suffering from a memory disorder. Elected twice by significant margins, speculation began to circle about his 2013 plans.
On Feb. 19, 2013, Fuhriman publicly stated he would not seek reelection in 2013.
Later that same day, City Councilwoman Sharon Parry officially jumped into the race. Parry had a long history of public service, including having served on the Idaho Falls and Bonneville County Planning & Zoning Commission, three terms on the local school board and two terms on the City Council. She was immediately deemed the frontrunner for the November general election.
Rebecca Casper also decided to run. An adjunct professor who taught political science courses at both Eastern Idaho Technical College and Brigham Young University-Idaho, Casper had served in numerous community capacities, including as Legislative Chair for the Idaho Falls Chamber, co-founder of the Mayor’s scholarship fund and on the board for the District 91 Education Fund. Despite that substantive background, she was relatively unknown among the general public.
She began by assembling a large campaign team and honing her campaign messages. The number of key volunteers was atypical and was probably a significant factor in the well roundedness of her campaign.
Given her relative unknown status, particular attention was given to the logo, photos and graphic design which were delivered by the very talented Dayne Dingman of Artcore Visual Studio. A selection can be viewed here: http://www.artcorevisual.com/
On June 27, 2013, Casper announced her candidacy before a crowd of over 100 in the patio of the Idaho Falls Hilton Garden overlooking the Snake River. She outlined her campaign themes of “Solving Current Problems. Growing the Economy. And, Enhancing the Community.”
From the beginning, Casper exercised considerable message discipline. Her campaign themes were distilled down to a simple slogan: “Solve. Grow. Enhance.” Every literature piece mirrored those themes as did all signage, online components, free media (news releases and interviews). To add substance to the message, she outlined a detailed agenda: http://www.casperformayor.com/
Casper also embraced social media, using Twitter actively, building a strong Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/
Beginning in July, Casper began to hold neighborhood meetings preceded by distribution of a literature piece with a sticker inviting past city voters to the neighborhood event. She ended up holding over 20 such events, including some in local restaurants and other public facilities.
Neighborhood captains were recruited by precinct and given the responsibility of committing to three literature drops to past city voters and the distribution of campaign signs.
Starting in August, to boost Casper’s name identification, the campaign put up billboards and full color 4”x2” signs around the Idaho Falls area.
By late August, Parry realized she had a race on her hands. She put up billboards and lots of large and small signs. She clearly won the sign battle over the course of the campaign. But, what she lacked was as many repetitive contacts with likely city voters as the Casper campaign generated.
After Labor Day, the candidate filing period officially opened. In addition to Parry and Casper, two others filed for mayor: Tim Downs, a local police officer, and Brian LaPray, a local businessman. Neither was able to generate much momentum or funds. But both women candidates were able to raise the necessary money for a viable campaign. Parry eventually generated a total of $31,470.26 while the equivalent for Casper was $37,105.73.
As the literature drops began, Casper reached out to older voters by placing the three pieces in the local newspaper as inserts.
She also attracted some significant endorsements: Former Mayor Linda Milam, community activist Sheila Olsen, local philanthropist Anne Voilleque, and two retiring city council members.
In late October, Casper conducted a poll of previous city voters. The results were encouraging: Casper at 40%, Parry yielding 25%, and LaPray and Downs dividing 13% between them.
One challenge facing all of the 2013 Idaho Falls mayoral candidates was that this was the first open seat election where a runoff provision, implemented in 2005, was in play. In order to win, a candidate needed 50% of the vote plus one vote. Most observers assumed the runoff would be triggered for this race, with two strong candidates in play. With the poll results, the Casper campaign knew it had a chance to avoid a runoff. A voter identification effort had previously identified voters who were undecided. The campaign now hit those voters heavily with direct mail.
The survey also asked whether past city voters approved or disapproved of the job Mayor Fuhriman had done. A full 69% had a favorable impression of Fuhriman’s performance while only 14% disapproved.
This was important because Parry had built her campaign around the idea that she would sweep out the leadership currently in city hall which she harshly criticized. On that issue, she was out of sync with city voters who still held warm feeling for Fuhriman.
A bit more than a week out from the election, Casper received a surprise endorsement from Idaho Governor Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter, both of whom personally made the maximum $1,000 contribution. The Idaho Association of REALTORS weighed into the race and used the Otter endorsement in direct mail.
In the last week, Mayor Furhriman made his personal preference known, backing Casper as the candidate to build on his legacy. That generated significant media attention which the Casper campaign reinforced through social media, newspaper advertising and direct mail.
The Sunday before the election, both the Parry campaign and the Casper campaign ran large ads in the Post Register. Parry’s ad blasted Casper for being tied to Fuhriman and labeled the Otter endorsement a “political payback”. Casper ended on a high note by running a full page ad outlining her broad-based support: http://www.casperformayor.com/
On Nov. 5, Casper won the race going away with 54% of the vote, avoiding the expected runoff election (of note, all three city council races were forced into a December 3rd runoff). Parry attracted the support of 31% of voters. LaPray won 10% of the vote, trailed by Downs at 5%.
Rebecca Casper won because she was a great candidate who developed a compelling message and delivered it effectively. Of note, State Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis (R-Idaho Falls) describes the 2013 Casper campaign as “one of the best campaigns ever run in East Idaho.”