Conventional wisdom suggests that Boise Mayor Dave Bieter should have no problem winning re-election to a fourth term on Election Day. Boise is predominantly a Democratic city, and Bieter is one of the party’s few bright stars in Idaho.
He has a wealth of campaign money, generous support from Republicans and a list of accomplishments that help make Boise one of the most livable cities in the United States. But Judy Peavey-Derr, Bieter’s chief rival, says hold off on the coronation. She thinks she can win.
On a scale of one to 10, she said, “I could be a braggart and say 10, but I’m going to say nine.”
Her campaign consultant, Mike Tracy, a longtime press secretary to former Sen. Larry Craig, has seen some unusual things in the waning days of this campaign – and it has nothing do to with his abilities as a political rainmaker. He hasn’t been able to raise money from his usual contacts and he acknowledges that some of the traditional Republican supporters are backing Bieter (the Boise mayor and city council positions officially are non-partisan.
“Something is happening that I can’t put my finger on,” Tracy said. “I’ve tried everything I have learned in the last 41 years of media and the last 30 years of politics and nothing is working. All of a sudden, this other stuff is happening. My phone is ringing off the hook and people I haven’t seen before are coming by to see me.”
Some of Tracy’s former political foes, such as former Republican gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher, are campaigning for Peavey-Derr.
It’s not unusual for bold predictions coming from underdog campaigns. Candidates have nothing to lose by making them, and are soon forgotten after candidates offer gracious concession speeches on election night. But Peavey-Derr and Tracy see a scenario that could put her in office – especially if the turnout is low.
They are banking partially on Bieter supporters thinking that the election is in the bag, and staying away from the polls – which wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened in an election. Bieter has spent little effort on campaign signs and media advertising, because there’s no apparent reason to do so. Tracy says his press releases haven’t seen the light of day in the Idaho Statesman, which puts the Peavey-Derr campaign in the middle of Death Valley.
Lack of attention may end up being a blessing for the campaign. The lower the turnout, the better her chances are for pulling off the upset. The challenge – and it’s a daunting one – is to get Republicans to the polls. Boise has about 27,000 registered Republican voters. If half those turn out and vote for Peavey-Derr, Boise could have a new mayor. If she gets 20,000 votes, Tracy figures she could win in a landslide.
Four years ago, in a race against a no-name opponent, Bieter received just more than 12,500 votes in an election that had only a 15 percent turnout. He received about 20,000 votes in 2007 against Jim Tibbs in a more hotly-contested race.
Peavey-Derr hardly is a no-name opponent. She served eight years as an Ada County commissioner and four years on the Ada County Highway District. She is serving a six-year term as an elected representative on the Auditorium District, which is overseeing plans for a new convention center.
Her connections go beyond the Treasure Valley. She and her late husband, Allen Derr, are longtime supporters and contributors to the University of Idaho – where Allen served on the foundation board for the law college. He also was one of Idaho’s leading Democrats, which Tracy figures is a plus for Judy.
As a fighter for women’s rights in the workplace, Tracy said of Derr, “he was one of the heroes of the Democratic Party – right up there with Frank Church and Cecil Andrus.” But there’s no question about Peavey-Derr’s Republican credentials.
Peavey-Derr says she’s not stuck on labels. “It’s a matter of what you do and how you represent the people. It’s a matter of fairness and common sense. Good government is not restricted to parties.”
Her agenda includes setting better budget priorities, easing regulations on businesses, elevating the city’s role in regional planning and working to replace at-large council seats and create council districts. (Tracy claims that Bieter and four of the six city council members live on the north end. The Bieter campaign says two city council members live in the north end; the mayor and another council member live on the east end).
First, she’ll have to defeat a three-term incumbent, which is a longshot even in Tracy’s eyes. But if the Mets can make it to the World Series, then anything is possible.