Fulcher's bid to lure Democrats, third parties to GOP made small difference

April 7, 2014 

If Sen. Russ Fulcher defeats Gov. Butch Otter in the May 20 Republican primary by a hair's breadth, he may credit his effort to convince non-Republicans to re-register and vote for him over the two-term incumbent.

But the result of the Meridian lawmaker's open courtship of Democrats, Libertarians and Constitution Party members appears quite modest.

"It was a tepid response," Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said last week.

Ysursa is a co-chairman of the Otter campaign and spoke to me for a profile published Sunday about his thoughts on retiring after 40 years helping conduct Idaho elections.

All four parties gained registrants before the March 14 re-registration deadline. But with Fulcher's effort and a busy GOP primary at the top of the ticket, Republicans had the largest proportional gain.

The increase of 1,630 registrants, however, could only be decisive in the closest of races. The new Republicans equal less than two-tenths of 1 percent of Idaho’s 742,742 registered voters and 1 percent of the number of people who cast ballots in the 2010 GOP primary. Otter won that seven-way contest by 47,000 votes.

Fulcher made his pitch the first week of March, but he wasn't alone.

Otter also spoke about alerting people of the re-registration deadline, though he said he wasn't trying to turn Democrats. An unusually competitive race between 2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson — who has done historically well in Democratic precincts — and tea party challenger Bryan Smith also likely lured voters to the GOP.

What now appears more promising for all GOP candidates is to draw from the largest pool of voters of all, the 59 percent who remain unaffiliated with any of the four parties. That group — 437,962 voters — all have the option of declaring themselves Republicans when they vote, either absentee or on Election Day. The first absentee ballots were mailed Friday and early in-person voting begins in Ada County on April 28.

Measuring the small shift to the GOP in March requires running out the decimal points in the fashion of a razor-thin margin for a baseball batting title.

The number of registered Republicans rose from 240,996 on March 1 to 242,626 on April 1. The proportion of Republicans among all 742,742 registered voters rose from 32.495 percent in March to 32.666 percent in April. That represents the gain of 1,630 voters and a 0.171 percentage rise.

Democratic registrations rose by 180 to 56,921, raising their percentage of all voters from 7.651 percent in March to 7.663 percent in April, an increase of 0.012 percent.

Libertarian registration rose by 62 to 3,488, up from 0.0046 percent to 0.0047 percent.

Constitution registration gained 32 to 1,745, staying flat at 0.0023 percent.

The largest shift came from unaffiliated voters who joined parties. In March, unaffiliated voters accounted for 438,750 of the 741,621 registered, or 59.161 percent. In April, that group fell to 437,962, or 58.966 percent. That's a drop of 0.195 percent.

Comparing the figures from Jan. 1 to April 1 also shows the modest shift from unaffiliated began before Otter and Fulcher started talking openly. On Jan. 1, 59.266 percent were unaffiliated; 32.417 percent GOP, 7.632 Democrat; 0.457 percent Libertarian and 0.227 percent Constitution.

If you're really into this stuff, check out Ysursa's web page, where historic charts listing voter affiliation are available by county, legislative district and congressional district.

Please comment if you see something interesting or have a different take on my analysis.

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