Letters from the West

Idaho’s turn in presidential race comes soon, could mean something

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a picture taken with audience member Michael T. Brown, center, during a campaign stop at the Franklin Pierce University Fieldhouse, Feb. 6 in Rindge, N.H.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a picture taken with audience member Michael T. Brown, center, during a campaign stop at the Franklin Pierce University Fieldhouse, Feb. 6 in Rindge, N.H. AP

The results from New Hampshire’s primary mean Idaho could have its own version of March Madness when it comes to presidential politics.

The runaway victories by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders on Tuesday mean that there will be two undecided nominations by the time Idaho’s Republican Primary rolls around March 8 and Idaho’s Democratic caucus comes March 22. That means candidates from both parties could end up campaigning in Idaho. At least one Republican candidate is sending his father.

Republicans replaced their expensive early 2012 caucus with an early primary solely for the presidential nomination. The Constitution Party joined them in the taxpayer-funded primary.

Democrats moved their caucus from Super Tuesday in February 2008 to March 22 this year, which appears to place it right in the thick of the race between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Voters will be able to change their affiliation at the polls so they can decide on March 8 to vote in the GOP presidential primary. The deadline for voters to change their affiliation for the May 17 primary (for legislative races and other state partisan races) is March 12.

So Republicans will get an organizing bonus. Unaffiliated voters or Democrats who want to vote for Trump or one of the other candidates can affiliate and vote on March 8. Then those voters can vote in the May 17 primary that they might otherwise skip.

Unaffiliated voters can vote in the Democratic primary May 17 but not in the closed Republican primary that day. To participate in the March 22 Democratic caucus, they will have to sign a paper saying they didn’t vote in the Republican primary.

A poll by Idaho Politics Weekly showed Trump leading the Republican pack by 31 percent among 621 Idaho adults interviewed between Jan. 21 and 31 by Dan Jones and Associates. Clinton had a 54-42 lead over Sanders in the same poll.

But polling often undercounts younger voters. Idaho Democratic Party chairman Bert Marley says Sanders has all the support among young Idahoans, just as he did in New Hampshire and Iowa.

We’re seeing a path for a balance in this state.

Bert Marley, Idaho Democratic Chairman

For the Republicans, turnout for a primary is much greater than a caucus. Idaho Republican Party Chairman Steve Yates expects much more participation than the 44,000 Republicans who gave Mitt Romney all of Idaho’s 32 delegates in 2012.

We are expecting a better participation rate than the early caucus.

Steve Yates, Idaho Republican Chairman

This time, a presidential candidate will need to get more than 50 percent of the vote to get all of the state’s delegates and will have to get at least 20 percent to get any delegates.

“We are earlier in one of the most intensive sorting processes in history,” Yates said.

As of Thursday, the remaining Republican candidates seeking the nomination are Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio. Kasich and Rubio have been to Idaho this cycle. Rafael Bienvenido Cruz, the father of Ted, is scheduled for an event in Idaho Falls sometime in the first eight days in March.

Michigan and Mississippi hold primaries on March 8 as well and will compete for attention from GOP candidates, and both have more delegates at stake. The Democratic caucus on March 22 is the same day as primaries in Arizona and Utah, which could line up Clinton or Sanders for a Western swing to cover all three states.

In February 2008, former Gov. Cecil Andrus introduced Barack Obama to a crowd of 15,000 inside and outside Taco Bell Arena on the Boise State University campus. The impact was felt far beyond Idaho, as news shows rebroadcast the rally hundreds of times as proof that Obama could generate support in Red State America. What Andrus and other Idaho Democrats do could shape this year’s caucus.

Days after Obama’s 2008 visit, Democrats had 8,290 people show up at what was then Qwest Arena in Boise for the largest caucus held in the country that year. Idaho Democratic caucuses generally have attracted about 5,000.

Marley expects more this year, but not as many as in 2008. The Republicans will clearly outpace the Dems in participants.

But by the time the NCAA crowns its national champions for men’s and women’s basketball, Idaho’s March Madness will have figured in both parties’ nominations for the next leader of the free world.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker