SANDPOINT — For the first time in their history, Idaho’s Republicans will hold a presidential caucus on Super Tuesday instead of a primary in May. With Mitt Romney enjoying momentum from his fifth win in a row Saturday in Washington — along with a string of new endorsements — he stands a strong chance of capturing most if not all of Idaho’s 32 delegates.
But with no Idaho polling data to work with this election cycle, what can the 2008 primary tell us about Idaho’s GOP voter landscape?
In Idaho’s 2008 Republican primary, John McCain took home the prize with 70% of the vote to Ron Paul’s 24%. That primary was held on May 28, long after McCain had already secured the party’s nomination. Romney had already dropped out and did not appear on Idaho’s ballots.
Idaho was Paul’s single best state that year. This past Saturday, Paul swept Washington’s counties bordering Idaho, save for Spokane County. It’s worth noting that Paul’s percentage in Spokane county was almost cut in half from 46.6 to 26.5% from four years to this year, which gives Romney reason to smile. That said, a look at Google’s search trends over the past week in Idaho shows a leveling-off of Romney searches, but a steady increase in those for Paul.
What is the breakdown of statewide Republican politics in Idaho?
Republicans retain a solid control of all politics in Idaho, from the four-man congressional delegation, to their state government. Three out of those four members of Idaho’s congressional delegation are Mormon. The Idaho Senate has 28 Republicans and only seven Democrats, and the House has gotten even more conservative since 2008 with 57 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter won re-election in 2010. Otter competed as an incumbent in the 2010 primary against six other Republicans, one of which racked up 25% of the vote. This challenger was Rex Rammell, a Mormon, conservative, and veterinarian who has been in the media for quipping about hunting Obama and was convicted for jury tampering in an elk-poaching case.
Otter’s six years in office have been punctuated by education reform, neutering teacher’s unions and eliminating tenure; he also has issued an executive order against the Obama administration’s health care program. Recently, Otter proposed an increase in funding for higher education in the state. Otter has endorsed Romney and is hosting a rally for him in Coeur D’Alene this evening. UW Election Eye will be there.
Who will be in attendance at the GOP caucus this year?
Idaho is home to a strong libertarian streak. In a state where nearly 60% of the land is federally-owned forest, and rural populations see themselves as self-reliant, Idahoans feel strongly about property rights, state’s rights, and individual liberties. Paul, who is rallying across the state on Monday, could see high turnouts in his favor.
And then there’s social conservatism: 22% of Idahoans are Evangelical Protestant and 18% are Catholic. Rick Santorum has performed well with so-called “values-voters” and came in a close second place in many Eastern Washington caucuses.
But the state also has the second largest percentage of Mormons in the U.S., just behind neighboring Utah. Romney has swept the Mormon vote so far this election season, and Idaho may be no different.
Ohio may be capturing the bulk of Super Tuesday attention, but the result in Idaho may be illustrative of larger trends.