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2016 GOP Nomination & Implications for Idaho

The 2016 Presidential race is heating up.  Hillary Clinton is the clear Democratic leader, despite a stiff challenge from Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  But the Republican field, in the words of President Obama, is like the movie the Hunger Games with a zillion candidates all battling for supremacy.  It is clearly a muddled field with no dominant frontrunner – yet.

Given Idaho’s heavy GOP leanings (the last Democrat to win Idaho was President Lyndon Johnson in 1964), how are the various Republican candidates faring in Idaho?  And, what are the implications for Idaho with respect to the current GOP candidates?

The clock is quickly ticking.  This year’s Idaho Legislature moved the Idaho presidential primary to March 8 rather than late May.  Idaho Republicans appear to have backed away from 2012’s presidential caucus.  That means that we should be seeing some attention from candidates over the next six months or so.

A bit more than a week ago, Dan Jones, the Utah pollster who does the monthly survey for Idaho Politics Weekly, spoke in Boise at a Zions Bank forum about his June poll of Idaho residents.  Based on a blog post by the always-interesting Betsy Russell (The Spokesman Review’s Boise reporter), Jones found the following results for Idaho Republicans as to the 2016 GOP primary for candidates generating at least 5% support:

 

Republican Candidate

Voting Intentions among Idaho Republicans

(Dan Jones Poll for Idaho Politics Weekly, June 2015)

Jeb Bush

17%

Ben Carson

10%

Marco Rubio

11%

Mike Huckabee

9%

Rand Paul

6%

Donald Trump

11%

 

 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was left out because he had not yet officially announced his candidacy.

I’m not surprised by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s strength.  His brother always did well in Idaho, as did his father. And, he is clearly undergoing a surge nationwide.  But, what is fascinating is businessman Donald Trump’s strong second place showing among Idaho Republicans tying him with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who recently spoke to the Idaho Republican Central Committee in Idaho Falls.  Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee also are showing strong, only 1 point and 2 points back from the second place finishers among Idaho Republicans.

The real surprise is Sen. Rand Paul’s weak showing.  His father, Ron Paul, was extremely well organized in Idaho in 2012.  That year, the Idaho GOP held a caucus for the first time in which Mitt Romney romped with 61.6% of the caucus votes.  Ron Paul came in third with 18.1% of the vote, narrowly trailing surprise second-place finisher former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.   But, there was no doubt that Ron Paul’s supporters were enthusiastic, turning out in huge numbers for rallies in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Boise and the appearance of significant grassroots support with lots of bumper stickers, social media and even yard signs. But, the Dan Jones numbers seem to indicate that the father’s luster has not transferred to the son.

Another way of looking at the Jones poll is to compare his Idaho results with the performance of the GOP candidates nationally (those polling over 5%).  The excellent website RealClearPolitics.com provides a rolling average of national polls of likely 2016 Republican voters.  I’ve taken the latest results and placed them side by side with the Dan Jones numbers.  For each set of results, I’ve sorted the candidates high to low.

 

National Polls versus Dan Jones Poll of 2016 GOP Voters

Likely Republican Voters Nationally

(Real Clear Politics Average for 6/11-6/28/2015)

Idaho Republicans

(Dan Jones Poll for Idaho Politics Weekly, June 2015)

Jeb Bush – 16.3%

Jeb Bush – 17%

Scott Walker – 10.5%

Donald Trump – 11%

Ben Carson – 9.8%

Marco Rubio – 11%

Marco Rubio – 9.3%

Ben Carson – 10%

Mike Huckabee – 7.8%

Mike Huckabee – 9%

Rand Paul – 7.3%

Rand Paul – 6%

Donald Trump – 6.5%

 

 

 

The great unknown is how Scott Walker would impact the Idaho results (remember, he was not included in the Jones poll because he had not announced).  But, the interesting contrast is the fact that Donald Trump is almost twice as strong in Idaho as he is in the rest of the United States.  Overall, the Idaho results for most candidates are not dramatically different than the national numbers.

A few other observations about the 2016 Republican Primary.

First, none of the GOP candidates has especially strong ties to Idaho, with the prominent exception of Jeb Bush.  In 2011 and 2012, he publicly supported former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s education reforms that were repealed overwhelmingly by voters in 2012.  At the 2012 Republican convention, he sponsored a fundraiser to support the laws.  Will that support help or hurt Bush in Idaho’s 2016 March primary?

In fact, the only westerner among the set is former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who is generating some attention but limited support so far.  None seems particularly keyed to regional issues.  Does that mean issues of importance to Idaho like land management, water, agriculture and such will be overlooked?

Second, so far, none of the candidates is organizing strongly in Idaho.  Some ultra-conservatives are trying to generate some attention for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz but I’ve seen little for anyone else.  Given the relatively close nature of the national race, expect at least one or two national campaigns to make a push for Idaho votes at some point during the primary process over the next few months, certainly by the end of the year.

Third, what role will Idaho’s elected officials play?  In 2012, most backed Mitt Romney strongly.  But, this year, only Rep. Raul Labrador has embraced a candidate (Rand Paul).  Will Sen. Crapo or Sen. Risch join a campaign?  If so, will it be one of their legislative colleagues or someone else?  What about Gov. Butch Otter or Idaho’s legislators?  Will any of them engage their campaign infrastructure on behalf of one particular presidential candidate?  If they are going to play a key role in any campaign, the time to commit is rapidly approaching.

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