Blue wave in west Boise spurs GOP soul-search­ing

The Idaho Statesman - - Front Page - BY KATE TALERICO kta­lerico@ida­hostates­man.com

For the last 20 years, as Boise has elected more and more Democrats to the Leg­is­la­ture, west Boise’s Dis­trict 15 re­mained a Repub­li­can strong­hold.

But this year, both its House seats flipped from red to blue, and a re­count will de­ter­mine whether its Se­nate seat flips, too.

The de­feat of two in­cum­bents and the pos­si­ble de­feat of a third is rais­ing con­cern among Repub­li­cans — and hopes among Democrats — that a Demo­cratic wave has come to the dis­trict, lo­cated be­tween Cloverdale and Maple Grove Roads and be­tween Chin­den Boule­vard (High­way 26) and In­ter­state 84.

Two of the in­cum­bents say they ex­pected that the statewide propo­si­tion on Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion would draw Demo­cratic vot­ers to the polls. But they say the prob­lem was wors­ened by the lead­er­ship of the Ada County Repub­li­can Party. They say if the county GOP or­ga­ni­za­tion doesn’t change, the dis­trict could get swal­lowed up by a blue wave.

“I hope it’s a wake-up call to the Ada County Repub­li­cans,” said Sen. Fred Martin, who was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2014 and 2016. On Tues­day, he came in just six votes ahead of his Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Jim Brat­nober.

Martin and Rep. Pa­trick McDon­ald say the Ada County Repub­li­can Party failed to fund-

raise suf­fi­ciently for can­di­dates in the county and has iso­lated vot­ers by re­sort­ing to the na­tional party’s divisive rhetoric. New lead­er­ship has also cre­ated fric­tion — they feel that the county party is mired in in­fight­ing be­tween tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tives and its lib­er­tar­ian fac­tion.

In June, Ada County Repub­li­cans voted Ryan David­son, for­mer chair of the Lib­er­tar­ian Party of Idaho, as their chair­man. He has pre­vi­ously lob­bied for pro-mar­i­juana bal­lot ini­tia­tives in Hai­ley, and he founded the lib­er­tar­ian group Ida­hoans for Free­dom nearly a decade ago.

David­son said this year’s midterms were “un­usual” given the un­prece­dented turnout for a midterm elec­tion. In two years they might see Repub­li­cans re­cap­ture the dis­trict, he said.

But he also said Repub­li­cans need to think hard about what hap­pened in Ada County this year. Not only did they lose two seats in Ada County — they also lost their ma­jor­ity on the three­mem­ber Ada County Com­mis­sion.

“Ob­vi­ously we need to change our strat­egy, oth­er­wise we’re go­ing to keep los­ing elec­tions,” he said in a phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

But he brushed aside Repub­li­cans who “say we need to mod­er­ate the mes­sage” and ad­vo­cated that the party “chase the trends” in na­tional Repub­li­can is­sues to cap­ture vot­ers’ at­ten­tion.

The lo­cal party’s fo­cus on na­tional is­sues has not al­ways served them well else­where, ei­ther. At the state fair this sum­mer, the party dis­played a card­board cutout of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hold­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton in a head­lock. It drew crit­i­cism from Repub­li­cans as well as Democrats.

Martin and McDon­ald said they tried to turn the con­ver­sa­tion away from po­lar­iz­ing is­sues like the pres­i­dent and make their cam­paigns about Ida­hoans.

“I didn’t in­cor­po­rate any of the na­tional prob­lems or na­tional meth­ods or na­tional is­sues into my cam­paign,” said McDon­ald, who served in the state Leg­is­la­ture for three terms and lost to Jake El­lis.

McDon­ald also said the party was a less re­li­able source of cam­paign funds this year.

“The lib­er­al­iza­tion of Ada County — they’re help­ing it, be­cause they won’t sup­port their own can­di­dates,” McDon­ald said. “They don’t know how to fundraise.”

But David­son said that the party “his­tor­i­cally has strug­gled to raise money,” since donors give to can­di­dates di­rectly rather than via the party. The county party hosted a ban­quet on Elec­tion Night, which he said should bol­ster their fundrais­ing ef­forts.

State elec­tion fil­ings show that be­tween 2006 and 2010, the Ada County Repub­li­cans doled out about $20,000 each year to can­di­dates. In 2012, they gave just $2,000 to­tal to four can­di­dates for the Leg­is­la­ture. Since then, they have do­nated just once: $300 to Tabby Jol­ley’s un­suc­cess­ful 2016 bid for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Dis­trict 17.

Even with more fi­nan­cial sup­port, Martin isn’t sure that the Repub­li­cans could have won.

Jaclyn Ket­tler, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Boise State Uni­ver­sity, said Dis­trict 15 had been get­ting more com­pet­i­tive with each elec­tion. “It’s one that’s been pegged as a po­ten­tial area for Demo­cratic pick­ups for a lit­tle while,” she said.

State Rep. Lynn Luker, who lost his Dis­trict 15 seat to Steve Berch, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment sent to his email and voice­mail.

KATE TALERICO

Demo­crat Jim Brat­nober chal­lenged in­cum­bent Sen. Fred Martin for the Dis­trict 15 Se­nate seat in the Idaho Leg­is­la­ture. Brat­nober came in just six votes be­hind Martin.

KATE TALERICO

Demo­crat Jake El­lis de­feated in­cum­bent Rep. Pa­trick McDon­ald to win House Seat B for Dis­trict 15. McDon­ald has served in the Leg­is­la­ture for three terms.

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