More than Oliver North: 3 things to watch for as Idaho Dems, GOP meet this week

Delegates cast their votes for chairman during the 2016 Idaho Republican Party Convention in Nampa.
Delegates cast their votes for chairman during the 2016 Idaho Republican Party Convention in Nampa. AP file

Oliver North's and Jason Kander's speeches at this week's political conventions may draw some of the most interest.

But there are more reasons you should watch what happens as Idaho Republicans (who will hear from North) gather in Pocatello on Thursday and Democrats (Kander's audience) in Caldwell on Friday.

Idaho saw its highest primary turnout in 16 years in May. The conventions are now each party's chance to preserve that momentum, and to tell voters what they'll stand for this fall.

Delegates will also hear from their major candidates — in particular, former Democratic Rep. Paulette Jordan and Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the nominees for governor.

Here are three things to look for as the conventions begin.

Signals from the parties

Each convention is a chance for party delegates to set their platform and tone. What do Democrats view as important? Republicans? While not binding, those broad decisions are made here.

The Democrats don't compile and share platform changes until the actual convention; a party spokeswoman said to expect that information on Friday.

But the Republicans gather resolution and platform proposals early. Resolutions to be considered this year include two takes on health care and the Medicaid gap, and a request to support making city council elections partisan. One proposed platform change would encourage penalizing agricultural employers who knowingly hire employees living in the country illegally.

The candidates' words

Little described the convention as a chance to refresh existing relationships and build new ones within the party — then set a plan for the fall.

"The primary is over," he said. "We've selected the first-string team."

Jordan must maintain the enthusiasm that left some polling places struggling to keep enough Democratic ballots on hand during the primary.

"This is the first opportunity where we can all come together as a party and plan and strategize for the future," said Gayraud Townsend, a senior campaign adviser for Jordan.

Both candidates plan to speak to their delegates about their visions of a prosperous Idaho.

Little is concerned about how to manage the economic growth the state is seeing now, while keeping to the "lightest possible hand of government." He compared it to the 2016 convention, when kick-starting growth was the concern.

"Now it's all about prosperity," he said. "Now it's about rural areas that need help, and how do you have sustained prosperity instead of just growth?"

Jordan will promote "one Idaho," said Townsend — "not an Idaho for the disenfranchised and poor, not another Idaho for the rich and privileged, but one Idaho family." The message is "the same thing we've been talking about since day one," he said.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little won Idaho's May 15, 2018 gubernatorial primary and will face Democrat Paulette Jordan in the general election.

Winning strategies

Jordan's challenge is steep: Idahoans have not elected a Democrat as governor since Cecil Andrus in 1990. Democrats seeking the governorship since 1994 have gotten a reliable 30-45 percent of the vote.

While Democratic primary turnout caught Ada County election officials by surprise, Republican voters were still the majority here. Jordan's campaign believes the general election will be different — and that interest in her candidacy from people who introduce themselves as Republicans or independents shows Jordan could peel away enough voters with the right strategy.

"To win this race, we have to go to places that we haven't been before," Townsend said, speaking of the Democratic Party as a whole. "... Paulette's message is that everyone has a seat at the table under her leadership. And that's how she's going to win."

Surrounded by a loud, jubilant crowd in a small Boise bar, Paulette Jordan claimed victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, beating two-time candidate AJ Balukoff.

Little said he believes his message — limiting government while giving Idahoans the most opportunities to succeed — will set him apart in a general election, where there's less nuance and the differences between the candidates are more stark.

He must juggle his campaign work with his day job as lieutenant governor. Already, those have merged at times; campaigning off his role in a series of Medicaid waiver requests to the federal government prompted questions early this year.

Both campaigns suggested the large number of newcomers moving to Idaho will give them an edge. And both talked of avoiding the negative advertising that defined the Republican race this spring.

"There's a bright enough contrast between myself and the other party's candidate that that will be the issues," Little said.

The Statesman's Katy Moeller and the Associated Press contributed.
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