Paulette Jordan is Idaho's new political force; Brad Little is its steady, guiding one

Statewide name recognition came easily Tuesday for Lt. Gov. Brad Little, now the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Little has spent two decades in public service. His entrance into the governor's race was expected for years — time he devoted to cultivating coalitions and nurturing personal and professional relationships across the state, from the Capitol to farm- and ranch lands.

“I’ve got people from all over the state — it’s very humbling — that ask how they can support me and what they can do," he told the Statesman when announcing his bid in June 2016.

Contrast that with Little's competitor this fall, Democrat Paulette Jordan. Five months ago, when the then-state-legislator announced her run for governor, few knew who she was outside of North Idaho and statewide political and tribal circles.

Anyone who ran an online news search on her last year would have come up with a smattering of results, mainly stemming from her position within the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Following her quick and focused path to victory, now not only does Idaho know who she is, but so does the nation. Run that Google news search today and 24,500 results pop up, including articles from The Atlantic, The Nation, HuffPost and BuzzFeed.

CNN traveled to Boise to cover Jordan on Tuesday, and more than a dozen national news outlets followed Idaho’s elections to learn if someone vying to become the nation’s first Native American governor would win the primary.

While Little brings patience, perseverance and a favorite-son popularity to the table, Jordan says she is responding to Idahoans' deep-seated desire to meaningful change.

“This is our time. This is an opportunity for all of us to stand up for ourselves and drive home a message that we’ve wanted for decades,” she said. “When I talked to individuals, to young people, they are so overwhelmed with the fact that there is a new opportunity and a leader that listens to them.

“These are people who are hit hard on the home front. They see someone who actually cares, who understands their story and that’s different because they are not talking to older white males, they are not talking to some Republicans.”

“I am excited to see Idahoans proud to be Idahoans again,” she said.

Little's ideas on how best to lead the state have been crafted over his decades of public service and personal observation.

"Idaho's variety of cultures, values , economic climates and my experience in all of those areas — philanthropy, education, agriculture, business — gives me a very well-rounded knowledge of what Idaho is and how much it has changed over the years and how that change can be helpful," he said. "Exposing the broader general election voters to that, is what we need to do between now and November."

Like Jordan, both of Little's main GOP challengers campaigned on changing Idaho. But Little notes Idaho is already the fastest-growing state, winning numerous accolades. "When you are No. 1, people are asking, ‘Do we really want to tip over the apple cart given our trajectory?’ " he said.

Next steps

In Idaho's most competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary in decades, Jordan beat her closest opponent, AJ Balukoff, by 18 points. But the GOP race was not as decisive.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little won with 37 percent of the vote. Labrador received 33 percent and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist received 26 percent in his first run for political office.

So far this year, Labrador is the fifth sitting GOP congressman to lose a bid for statewide office or to lose his seat in a primary — an issue that also drew national media interest Tuesday.

Ahlquist and Balukoff may go back to their day jobs as multimillionaire businessmen. But what will Raul Labrador do? His federal gig ends this year. A former immigration attorney, he will have to get his Idaho attorney credentials reinstated if he wants to practice law in Idaho.

Labrador shared his first reaction to the election results in a written statement Wednesday afternoon, thanking his campaign volunteers and calling for unity. He also congratulated Little.

"It was a long, hard-fought battle and I respect the voice of the people," Labrador said. "It's now time to set aside our differences and unite as a party to do everything we can to ensure strong Republican victories in November. I urge my friends and supporters to rally behind our nominee."

Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman's government and watchdog reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.
Related stories from Idaho Statesman