With more than half of Idaho voters telling pollsters that the Gem State is on the "right track," chances were Tuesday would be a good night for incumbents.
That conventional wisdom held, as GOP Gov. Butch Otter won his party's nomination to become the first governor to win three consecutive terms since 1962.
"The Idaho GOP establishment seems to be the big winner," said Steve Shaw, a political scientist at Northwest Nazarene University, noting that strong wins by Otter allies U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden showed that most voters were satisfied with the status quo.
Though Otter will be a favorite over Democrat A.J. Balukoff in November, Shaw said, his loyalists "should be concerned at the relative weakness" of the governor's victory.
"Otter is not 'all hat and no cattle,' but perhaps the herd is getting thinner," Shaw said. "Not from a resurgent Democrat opposition but from an internal battle for the soul of the Idaho GOP."
Indeed, Otter lost to Sen. Russ Fulcher in Idaho's three largest counties. There was other bad news for Otter. Some of the legislative candidates he backed were defeated, too. Read Dan Popkey's blog for analysis.
Although not an Otter ally, state Rep. Lawerence Denney - the only elected official in a four-way Republican race for secretary of state - held a narrow but consistent lead.
With all but five precincts across the state reporting results as of 3:02 a.m. Wednesday (three of the precincts are in Blaine County; the other two are in Bingham County), here are the results:
Gov. Butch Otter: 79,383 (51.3%)
Russ Fulcher: 67,514 (43.6%)
Harley Brown: 5,052 (3.3%)
Walt Bayes: 2,751 (1.8%)
A.J. Balukoff: 16,655 (65.3%)
Terry Kerr: 8,835 (34.7%)
Lt. Gov. Brad Little: 96,403 (66.8%)
Jim Chmelik: 47,977 (33.2%)
Secretary of State
Lawerence Denney: 50,722 (37.1%)
Phil McGrane: 38,130 (27.9%)
Evan Frasure: 26,399 (19.3%)
Mitch Toryanski: 21,578 (15.8%)
Lawrence Wasden: 83,320 (59.1%)
C.T. "Chris" Troupis: 57,734 (40.9%)
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Sherri Ybarra: 38,425 (28.4%)
Randy Jensen: 32,793 (24.3%)
John Eynon: 32,431 (24.0%)
Andrew Grover: 31,498 (23.3%)
1st Congressional District
Rep. Raul Labrador: 56,214 (78.6%)
Lisa Marie: 5,155 (7.2%)
Michael Greenway: 3,494 (4.9%)
Reed C. McCandless: 3,373 (4.7%)
Sean Blackwell: 3,304 (4.6%)
Shirley Ringo: 9,025 (81.8%)
Ryan Barone: 2,003 (18.2%)
2nd Congressional District
Rep. Mike Simpson: 48,257 (61.6%)
Bryan Smith: 30,095 (38.4%)
Sen. Jim Risch: 118,493 (79.9%)
Jeremy Anderson: 29,777 (20.1%)
Nels Mitchell: 16,801 (69.6%)
William Bryk: 7,337 (30.4%)
STAYING THE COURSE
The thrust of Fulcher's challenge to Otter was captured in a TV ad that thanked him for decades of service but said "it's time" for the cowboy governor to ride into the sunset.
Since beginning his campaign last fall, Fulcher's core message has been that Otter has lost touch, evidenced by his pressing for an Idaho-run health exchange under President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Otter's strengths include a famed affability and decades of loyalty from party stalwarts. After governing through 7 1/2 years of recession and a slowly recovering economy, Otter says he deserves a chance to lead during better times.
Owen Seatz, a respiratory therapist from Boise, is for staying the course.
"We're picking the representative who's going to set the tone for the state," said Seatz, 45, after casting his ballot at Summerwind Elementary. "I chose Mr. Otter, for stability."
Citing budget troubles in other states, Seatz commended Otter's fiscal restraint. "I know we've had to make cuts, get by with less. It's hurt. But we're not in debt. We're in pretty good shape," he said.
Shaun Henry, a software engineer from Middleton, said it's time for change.
"I want Idaho government to stand up and protect us from an overbearing federal government that seems to be becoming even more overbearing," said Henry, 35. "Stand up for common-sense laws, common-sense rules, just common sense."
Though an Otter TV spot highlighted his battles with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Henry said Fulcher is the one he trusts to fight for property rights. "Fulcher is an opportunity to take a fresh look at how to protect Idaho citizens and Idaho business," he said.
Various insider polls have shown about a 20 percent gap between those who say Idaho is on the "right track," as opposed to "wrong track." An Idaho strategist discussed the general polling trends with the Statesman on the condition of anonymity.
LOOKING FOR CHANGE
Nevertheless, anti-incumbent feeling is significant. About one-third of likely voters say they prefer someone new to politics with fresh ideas over someone with experience. That question was put to respondents "blind," before mention of any candidates.
Chris Fullmer, of Meridian, voted an anti-establishment slate, starting with Fulcher and trickling down to Jim Chmelik over Lt. Gov. Little; Chris Troupis over Wasden; Todd Hatfield over Controller Brandon Woolf; Denney for secretary of state; and John Eynon over three others for superintendent of public instruction.
"I'm kind of a tea party guy, so I try to vote conservative and follow those candidates who are going to protect our constitutional rights, family values and get rid of Common Core," said Fullmer, a 48-year-old IT specialist for the federal government.
Sue Darden, 54, a teacher in Meridian, voted the opposite slate.
"If Fulcher wanted them, I voted no," Darden said. "I want someone who knows how to compromise and listen to people. Fulcher does not want to listen to the teachers."
One voter steamed about incumbents was Jim Christy, 62, a retired Marine from Boise, who showed up to cast his vote against Otter.
"I know Butch Otter personally and I don't like him. He's not a nice person," he said.
Asked who he wanted to vote for, Christy couldn't quite come up with Fulcher's name, calling him "the non-Otter person."
Christy was among a cadre Fulcher appealed to - voters he asked to switch party affiliations by a March 14 deadline to vote GOP.
Unfortunately, Christy never changed his Constitution Party affiliation.
"They wouldn't let me vote," he said outside his polling place at Hillview United Methodist Church. "I knew it was a closed primary and that's the way I want it. I didn't know I had to change. I usually keep up with that stuff."
Don Moris, of Boise, said he supported Otter because he fears Fulcher's push to wrest federal lands into state control. Moris, 74, a retired civil engineer, said he figures the state would sell recreational lands to the highest bidder.
"I grew up enjoying the public lands and I'm afraid it would shut down access," Moris said.
Meridian resident Michelle Mayfield was among those disturbed by last week's gubernatorial debate, which became an Internet sensation because of the antics of perennial fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes, who were on hand at Otter's insistence.
"The debate was awful," said Mayfield, 43, a teacher. "But I had to vote for Otter because he was certainly better than the other people."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics