The primaries are showcasing 2016 as the year of anti-establishment politics across the nation. But as one political wag noted, that comes every year in Idaho. Still, voter frustration and anger, and some Idaho-specific variables, make Tuesday hard to gauge. So, here’s what to watch for:
1. How will the earlier primary go? Idaho has never voted this early in a presidential year, so there’s no history to turn to for outcome predictions or turnout estimates. “There is literally no basis for an apples-to-apples comparison,” GOP state chairman Steve Yates said.
2. Do voters know there’s an Idaho election? Overall voter interest in the presidential race is high, but it’s not clear how aware voters are of the Tuesday primary for what is mostly a one-race ballot: GOP presidential candidates. (Idaho’s 2,000 Constitution Party members also hold their primary Tuesday.) Democrats caucus for president March 22 and for all other partisan races — Congress, Legislature, counties — the parties nominate their candidates May.
One potential bellwether: Early voting and requests for absentee ballots are low.
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“There seems to be a general lack of awareness that there’s an election tomorrow,” Chief Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said Monday. “It’s not a lack of awareness about politics in general, just that (Idaho is) up. Typically, the only thing we’d be voting on (in March) is school bonds or levies.”
3. What will turnout look like? McGrane said just 2,000 absentee ballots have been requested in Ada County. That’s about 40 percent of the previous low from the 2012 state primaries. He predicts turnout will be in the teens. Ada had 16 percent turnout in 2012; statewide primary turnout that year was 24.5 percent, and 26 percent in 2014.
Lower turnout makes getting the vote out all the more important for the candidates — except that no candidate has shown much of an Idaho ground game. Trump has run his whole campaign that way, relying on big rallies, social media and news coverage. As for the others, ask yourself: Have you been buried in political ads and campaign mailers this year? Has anyone come knocking on your door?
It’s an odd combination – high interest with low turnout. It would make sense for excitement “to translate into high participation in the primary,” said Yates. For the winner, “it’s really going to come down to turnout.”
4. Will candidate visits and endorsements matter? Rubio has visited Idaho three times, Cruz and Kasich once, Trump not at all. Kasich came more than a year ago, in January 2015. Endorsements break all over the map: U.S. Rep Raul Labrador and Treasurer Ron Crane are with Ted Cruz. Rubio has U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, State Controller Brandon Woolf and East Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot. Gov. Butch Otter is with John Kasich. No Idaho notables have endorsed Trump.
Visits by Rubio and Cruz over the weekend might have amped up the primary attention. Cruz had a huge showing in Coeur d’Alene and Rubio packed a Boise airport hangar. But in our interviews at candidate rallies, a fair number of people were still comparison shopping.
5. Will the polls and pundits be right? The latest puts Trump, Cruz and Rubio finishing 1-2-3 in Idaho. But the poll was done before last weekend’s visits, before Ben Carson left the race and before Mitt Romney told everyone to dump Trump. Will Republican Mormons, especially in east Idaho, respond to Romney’s call, or did it come too late? And remember, Trump got a bump when he criticized the pope. Romney’s diatribe might actually stir up Trump supporters, especially in North Idaho.
Trump support might have crested, although that’s been said before. Last weekend’s contests showed a strengthening Cruz. Is is that a trend, or a fluke of the primary calendar? And which candidate will claim the supporters of Ben Carson, who polled higher than Kasich in the latest Idaho survey?
What’s happening in today’s other races?
Besides Idaho’s GOP Constitution party primaries, Michigan and Mississippi have Republican and Democratic primaries and Hawaii has a Republican caucus. Heres what’s going on there:
The biggest delegate prize today for both parties is Michigan. Republicans there have 59 delegates up for grabs. Mississippi Republicans have 40 delegates to go with Idaho’s 32 and Hawaii’s 19.
Donald Trump is comfortably ahead in polls in Michigan and Mississippi. He is also ahead in the scant polling done in Idaho. He tweeted a thank you to Idaho:
Here’s what we might know about the Republican race at the end of today:
▪ Have attacks on Trump, including from Mitt Romney, slowed his momentum?
▪ Is Ted Cruz picking up ground against Trump?
▪ Does Marco Rubio’s campaign have any juice left?
▪ Will John Kasich get a bump from an industrial midwest state?
Polls in Michigan and Mississippi close at 8 p.m. ET, so Idahoans will know the outcome in those states before 2-3 hours polls close here. Hawaii’s caucuses start at 6 p.m. (9/10 p.m. MT/PT).
Michigan’s Democrats have 130 delegates at stake, Mississippi’s have 36. Hillary Clinton is heavily favored to clean up in both states against Bernie Sanders.
All states are awarding delegates proportionally unless one candidate hits the winner-take-all mark of 50 percent.
For all candidates but one, all roads today lead to Florida, the next big primary contest a week from now. Hillary Clinton had stops in Michigan and Ohio today and will be in Florida tonight. Sanders is in Florida.
Cruz is stopping in North Carolina en route to Florida from Michigan. Trump and Rubio are in Florida. Kasich is in Michigan then his home state of Ohio tonight.
What are Idahoans saying Tuesday?
Ken Georges, from Star, has had it with cookie cutter politicians. Trump, he said, is the antidote. “I think if anyone can get in there and tell some guys to ‘get the work done or you are out of here —you’re fired,’ I guess hopefully he can do it.”
Georges doesn’t agree with everything Trump says, “He’s obviously not that polished a speaker as a politician,” he said. “Most of those guys have grown up in that political arena, so they know how to speak and what words not to use and that’s one of the refreshing things about (Trump).”
Then there’s Elisha Knudsen, who dismissed Donald Trump as a lot of bluster and a lot of ego as she joined friends at Wild West Eatery and Cantina in Eagle early Tuesday morning.
When Knudsen, 38, gets to the polls later today, she will be voting for Ted Cruz.
Knudsen, a self-described conservative Christian, says she agrees with Cruz that our rights come from God. He is “very, very faithful,” she said. “He says what he means.”
She lines up with Cruz’s belief in limited government. “People really can help themselves,” she said.
Knudsen says she can’t watch the debates, mostly because of Trump, although she catches highlights later. “I can’t stomach it.”
She doesn’t like his comments, especially about women. He’s not “a decent human being,” she said.
Harmon Hurren, a retired educator in Nampa, voted for Cruz.
“He has the experience to carry out the policies I support,” Hurren said, speaking outside the First Church of the Nazarene.
Ada County’s new voting machinery, where ballots are tabulated in the precincts, was working well this morning, said Phil McGrane, Ada County chief deputy clerk.
Ada County worked with about 30 computer students from Boise State University who fanned out over the county, prepared to offer any technical assistance if poll workers were unsure what to do.
Voting was steady at the polls Tuesday morning, with lines a some of the voting places.
How to vote today
Voting is restricted to Republican and Constitution party voters, but voters can register and declare party affiliation at the poll Tuesday (bring photo ID). If you have an absentee ballot, you have until 8 p.m. to turn it in to the county clerk.
▪ Polls are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
▪ Vote in your usual polling place. To find where to vote, visit the idahovotes.gov site.
How are delegate decided? To get any of Idaho’s 32 delegates to the national GOP convention, a candidate must win at least 20 percent of the vote. If no candidate reaches that threshold, then delegates are distributed based on the percentage of each candidate’s votes. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent, that candidate is awarded all 32 delegates.
Who’s still in the running? Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Peter Messina, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum remain on the ballot though they’ve dropped out.
Who’s running for Constitution Party? Texans Scott Copeland and Patrick Anthony Ocklander, and J.R. Myers of Alaska.
Why now? Idaho lawmakers moved the primary from May to March in hopes of giving votes from the conservative state more clout nationwide. “No one state determines the election, but Idaho is a place for a candidate to pick up a sizable amount of delegates,” said David Johnston, executive director of the Idaho GOP. The move brought objections from Idaho Democrats, who opposed the state paying the election’s costs.