Letters from the West

Will Trump’s divisiveness affect Idaho races? New polls offer insight

Sen. Mike Crapo, left, meets with Butte City Mayor Carl Nulf, center, and Russell King during a meet-and-greet in September 2015 in Butte City.
Sen. Mike Crapo, left, meets with Butte City Mayor Carl Nulf, center, and Russell King during a meet-and-greet in September 2015 in Butte City. psutphin@postregister.com

The latest polls of likely Idaho voters suggest statewide Republican candidates will glide to victory Nov. 8 when all of our ballots are counted.

That won’t come as a surprise to anyone. But there are some perplexing developments that may have an effect on the outcomes of some races, especially those down ballot.

First, the elephant in the room. Donald Trump is the most divisive candidate the Republican Party has nominated since the decade the Cubs last won the World Series.

There is little doubt he will win in Idaho, holding as he does a 52 percent to 23 percent lead over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to an Emerson College poll conducted a week ago. Evan McMullin, the Utah independent who is popular among Mormon voters, is getting 10 percent in the poll of 1,023 likely voters; another 9 percent of Idahoans were undecided.

McMullin is popular in Idaho and especially Utah because many Mormon voters can’t stomach Trump’s statements about women, Muslims and others. Idaho Mormons are splitting their votes 33 percent to 32 between Trump and McMullin, the Emerson poll showed.

Trump’s biggest problem in Idaho is in the east, which lies in the 2nd Congressional District. Trump and Clinton are statistically tied (Clinton has 37 percent, Trump 36 percent) in the 2nd District. And that’s despite a 22 percent favorability deficit in the 2nd District: 39 percent of the people polled said they had a favorable opinion of Clinton to 61 percent answering unfavorable.

In the 2nd District, Trump had a 31 percent favorable rating to 65 percent unfavorable.

Trump has far fewer problems in the 1st District, the western half of the state, where 57 percent of those polled expressed a favorable opinion to 40 percent unfavorable.

Will Republican voters who dislike Trump just stay home? Will those who like Trump, but who are mad at the Republican establishment, just vote for him and leave the rest of their ballots blank?

I have interviewed Idaho voters outside the polls for the past 30 years and I often find people have no idea who represents them in the Idaho Capitol. But state lawmakers, as well as city council members, school board trustees and county and highway district commissioners, have the most direct effect on our daily lives.

No pollsters are asking the Idaho down-ballot question. But Emerson did give us some numbers to compare. Its poll showed incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo leading Democratic opponent Jerry Sturgill, a Boise businessman and a Mormon who grew up in Twin Falls, 57 percent to 24 percent. Crapo’s favorability rating is 46 percent to 35 in the 1st District and 45 percent to 36 percent in the 2nd.

The Emerson poll was conducted as Crapo was flip-flopping on his support for Trump for the second time this month.

On Oct. 8, the day after the tape of Trump talking about sexually assaulting women emerged, Crapo withdrew his endorsement for Trump and urged him to resign and let Mike Pence run in his place. On Oct. 21, he changed his mind and said he would vote for Trump.

The flip, which came after Idaho County’s GOP Central Committee said it would no longer campaign for Crapo and after his office was flooded with critical calls, may end up costing him more support, says a pollster who’s worked for Sturgill.

“I think what Crapo has to worry about is looking political and opportunistic,” said Joshua Ulibarri of Lake Research Partners, which works with Democrats around the country. “He looks weak.”

Ulibarri said Crapo support already was soft even with GOP voters, because of the time he has been in Washington (he went first to the House in 1993). Republicans who support Trump may not forgive Crapo when they go to the polls, and Republicans who oppose Trump may just stay home.

“There’s a ton of disarray and disruption on their side,” Ulibarri said. “I think there’s definitely still time for Stugill to catch up to Crapo.”

But Spencer Kimball, the Emerson College professor who supervised the Emerson poll, said Crapo’s lead is insurmountable — even if Mormons drop him in droves and Democrats and independents flock to Sturgill.

“The 1st District will stay as is and Sturgill would need to win the 2nd District by 30 points and nothing in the data suggests that is possible,” Kimball said.

So if polls didn’t drive Crapo’s return to Trump, what did?

“This is not a political position,” Crapo told the Idaho Statesman. “It’s based on my convictions.”

After he unendorsed Trump and called for a Republican like vice presidential nominee Pence to replace Trump, Crapo said, “It became evident that the choice I called for would not, and could not, happen.”

“At that point I don’t think anybody should be surprised that, given the choice we have today, I am not voting for Hillary Clinton and will support the party ticket.”

Sturgill doesn’t buy Crapo’s explanation.

“I mourn the GOP of my youth and am saddened by the compromises forced on our Republican leaders,” Sturgill said in a statement. “Sen. Crapo has swerved from partisan to principled to pandering.”

Add Crapo’s 2012 DUI arrest and guilty plea and the shine has faded on the Idaho Falls water lawyer and LDS member who has been in politics since he went to the Idaho Senate in 1984. He defeated Democrat Tom Sullivan 71 to 25 percent in 2010, a whopping 46 percent margin.

With early voting under way, a lot of Idahoans already have cast their ballots. A lot can still happen. I urge Idahoans to learn about the races on the ballot (check the IdahoStatesman.com voter guide) and make your mark on destiny, not only on the national races but also the candidates who will represent you in Idaho, no matter what you think of Trump and Clinton.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker