The 2020 presidential election is off to a fast start. Pres. Trump and Democratic front runner Joe Biden are already hurling spears at each other. The massive Democratic field of 20+ is marked by a multitude of candidates scrambling to stand out.
What role will Idaho play in selecting the Democratic nominee?
It will be undoubtedly different than what happened in 2016. That year Idaho Democrats held a presidential caucus and Bernie Sanders was the overwhelming choice with 78.04% of the vote after holding large rallies in Idaho Falls and Boise.
In 2020, Idaho Democrats have opted to join Idaho Republicans in holding a primary election to begin selecting delegates on March 10. The Democratic primary will be open to registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters, ie. those not registered with either party. Republicans will restrict their primary to those registered as such.
Who will have the upper hand for the Idaho Democratic primary?
Sanders probably has significant momentum in Idaho from his overwhelming rout in 2016 of Clinton. But, that was a caucus that puts a premium on grassroots organization and supporter enthusiasm. Sanders had both in spades in 2016. A primary typically attracts a broader electorate and tends to somewhat reduce the influence of hardcore activists.
Biden is the current leader by a big margin in national polling, roughly doubling Sanders. If he substantially narrows the field by next March and is seen as the strongest overall to take on Trump, Idaho Democrats could embrace him in droves.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren could compete for many of the same liberal activists that backed Sanders in 2016 in Idaho. She has detailed policy prescriptions that tackle many of Sanders’ key 2016 issues, in particular student loans and healthcare, and she is making progress nationally.
Some candidates from neighboring states may make a run at Idaho, arguing regional affinity. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington could target Idaho as might Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Colorado’s former Gov. John Hickenlooper and/or U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet could argue understanding that comes from representing another Rocky Mountain state.
Other candidates might argue that they can connect with Idaho voters. Sen. Kamala Harris could reach out to Idaho voters who came from California, pitching her knowledge of the tech industry. Sen. Amy Klobuchar can speak about agriculture in detail, being from Minnesota. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker can be inspirational in his own right on the stump and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has a unique and interesting story.
By early next year the massive field will start to narrow considerably. Some candidates will run out of money and drop out. Others will fail to gain momentum and step aside. With 21 contests before Idaho, the number of candidates still in the race by March 10 will be fraction of the number who have announced.
The real question is which candidate will begin building out a campaign infrastructure in Idaho?
Former Obama HUD Secretary Julián Castro visited Boise in February. Others are likely on the way. Multiple visits are a sign someone is serious about making their mark in Idaho.
Will any Idaho Democrats step forward to embrace particular candidates? Watch for Idaho legislators and local officials to begin putting their names with the various campaigns. Those lists, when released, will be scrutinized to see who is building “Idaho momentum”. The big prize for any campaign is likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paulette Jordan. Her endorsement could carry weight in Idaho’s Democratic primary.
One thing is sure. Idaho will almost surely be a red state come November of 2020. But, its role in choosing the eventual Democratic candidate will be interesting to watch.