Idaho voters opted for change in subtle ways and at the margins. But the impacts on the legislative agenda and centers of power will be greater than the sum of their ballots. The takeaways, from top to bottom:
1. Less than 60 percent for Trump: Donald Trump carried the state with 59.2 percent of the vote to 27.6 percent for Hillary Clinton in unofficial state returns. Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate not to break 60 percent in Idaho since Bob Dole mustered 52 percent in 1996. Then, as this year, there was a three-way split in the state: Ross Perot took nearly 13 percent in 1996. Independent candidate Evan McMullin took nearly 7 percent in Idaho Tuesday.
Clinton’s showing matched that of Al Gore in 2000, the last time the Democratic presidential candidate failed to win 30 percent of the state vote. John Kerry won just over 30 percent in 2004, and Barack Obama took 36 percent in 2008 and 33 percent in 2012.
With the future of Obamacare now uncertain at best, and with the supporters in the legislature winnowed, an issue that has dominated the Idaho legislative agenda since 2012 is now decided: Medicaid expansion is dead.
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2. Crapo gets more votes than Trump: Sen. Mike Crapo, now the presumptive next chairman of the Senate Banking committee, ran the only other partisan statewide race. He outpolled Trump by 40,000 votes, about 10 percent more than Trump’s total. Crapo took 66 percent of vote in defeating Democrat Jerry Sturgill, who won just under 28 percent.
If Republicans did exceedingly well in Idaho, their one nominal loss came in the state Supreme Court race. Seven-term Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie worked his party bona fides hard in the nonpartisan race, but lost to Robyn Brody, who had the overwhelming support of the state’s legal community.
3. Is there a doctor in the House? Republicans added slightly to their 4-1 majority in both houses, but the Democrats they defeated were no back-benchers. A concerted GOP effort to oust House Democratic Minority Leader John Rusche succeeded convincingly, 58-41 percent. The other House seat in Rusche’s District 6 also went from blue to red, and Democrats also lost a House seat in Pocatello. Democrats lost Moscow Sen. Dan Schmidt’s District 5 seat in a much narrower race. The defeats of physicians Rusche and Schmidt leave just Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, as the only doctor in the Legislature.
While the numbers in both houses don’t change much, the legislative direction of the chambers moved decidedly right. The top policy casualty of that is the question of whether to expand Medicaid to help 78,000 of Idaho’s working poor. With the future of Obamacare now uncertain at best, and with the supporters in the Legislature winnowed in the May primaries and on Tuesday, an issue that has dominated the legislative agenda since 2012 is now decided: Medicaid expansion is dead.
Also, the Legislature, with support of the Republican party and some key interest groups, pushed through a constitution amendment that codifies legislative authority to review and reject state agency rule-making. The immediate impact is negligible — not to mention pretty esoteric and hard to explain. But the win is a victory for the Legislature against both the executive and judicial branches. As a result, it is Idaho’s fitting corollary to the proof voters nationwide delivered Tuesday, calling for fundamental change in the power structure.
4. Little change in the Treasure Valley: No surprises and some new faces. In the one truly contested legislative district, Democrats failed to break the Republican lock in West Boise’s District 15. Steve Berch’s latest try to unseat a Republican incumbent ended as three others did, in a loss, this time by fewer than 300 votes to incumbent Rep. Lynn Luker.
5. Ada County commission mirrors presidential results. The red vs. blue precinct breakdown in the one contested Ada County commissioner race was almost identical to the presidential result. Yes, that means the Democrat, TJ Thomson, lost to Republican Rick Visser. That’s not surprising: Partisan leanings in local, low-profile contests, where voters might not really discern much about the race, tend to align with the top ticket outcomes.
Three bonding resolutions would have passed — if only a simple majority were required to pass them. But the Meridian library bond; the Western Ada Recreation District bond; and the biggest, the $180 million College of Western Idaho bond for new facilities in Boise and Nampa all needed majorities of two-thirds or more. Voter self-interest and anxiety, in the form of economic insecurity, among other fears, played out across the county, as it did across the country.
Presidential elections in Idaho
Results since 1996
Pct of vote
Pct of vote
Ross Perot took 12.7% of the vote in 1996.
Evan McMullin took 6.8% of the vote in 2016.