Americans crowded around their television sets and laptop computers Tuesday night, sitting together on sofas and at bars, from Maine to California to usher in a new era.
- Francis Delapena
- Idaho knew him back then: Barack Obama in Boise in February, before he became the Democratic nominee and before being elected the next president of the United States.
The Barack Obama era began early Tuesday evening as one swing state after another aligned with the Illinois senator. Americans turned their backs on the racial divisiveness that has defined the nation in each of its earlier epochs, electing a black man who transcended race—and in many ways party and class lines—to earn a shot at leading a nation in crisis.
News networks champed at the bit as polling places closed across the East, giving Sen. John McCain time to gather his thoughts, but the maps and polls had tilted toward Obama for weeks.
Obama's first words as president-elect echoed his campaign's always-consistent message, with the added confidence that he would now have the opportunity to deliver on his vision of America—the land, in his words, of "democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."
"That's the true genius of America, that America can change, our union can be perfected," Obama said.
McCain made a brave but racially naïve concession speech in front his still hostile anti-Obama crowd in his home state of Arizona.
While Obama managed to bring along swing states like Ohio, Florida, Nevada and possibly Montana, which at press time was still too close to call, he moved the ball even in states as red as Idaho, which came out on the losing side of the electoral college.
Obama's February visit to Boise awakened a long sleeping giant in Idaho, bringing out unlikely voters and earning him what looked late Tuesday night, to be approaching 40 percent of the vote.
"Idaho played a major part in his victory because of the primary elections," said Idaho for Obama organizer T.J. Thomson. "We knew he was the right person for this particular point in history."
When the major news networks called the race for Obama at about 9 p.m., Obama supporters, gathered in downtown Boise and at a hotel in west Boise, erupted in cheers and tears.
"It only happens once every four years, and when it happens and we're electing a president, let's party," said Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Keith Roark.
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican who led with 71 percent late Tuesday in the Second Congressional District race, said that Obama will be a good president to work with.
"I think Obama will be more practical than his record indicates," Simpson said.
Roark said that Idaho candidates may sink or swim based on how the national Democratic Party is viewed here, and that Obama's performance could boost Democrats in state elections.
Minnick leads throughout the evening
As BW went to press, there were no major Legislative upsets on the horizon, with both parties cementing their turf in Ada County and across the state.
But returns in the federal races were getting interesting.
Lt. Gov. Jim Risch had a strong lead over former Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco, some 57 percent to 35 percent. Independent Senate candidates Rex Rammell and Pro-Life and Libertarian Kent Marmon were peeling some 8 percent off of Risch's totals.
But in Idaho's First Congressional District, Democrat Walt Minnick held his lead on Republican Rep. Bill Sali throughout the evening. At press time, Minnick was up about 2,000 votes, with nearly half of Idaho precincts reporting, though Sali was gaining.
At Idaho's GOP victory party, the crowd was completely silent as the networks called the race for Obama and subdued as John McCain conceded soon after.
"We have a nation today that's frustrated over war, frightened about its future ... they wanted a change and today they changed things," outgoing U.S. Sen. Larry Craig said.
But GOP candidates and their families packed the hotel ballroom as returns came in, indicating that Republicans would maintain their lock on the state Legislature, and most—if not all—federal offices.
"It's always disappointing when one of our candidates loses, but we can take solace in the state elections," said Sid Smith, executive director of the state GOP.
Idaho Democrats celebrated the Obama victory, dancing and littering the floors with the detritus of victory at their two separate ballrooms; one party for Obama and the other for state Democrats.
Parties defend turf in Legislature
There did not appear to be any major changes on the horizon in Ada County's political makeup, with Republicans and Democrats maintaining their balance of legislative seats after major gains for Democrats two years ago.
In Ada County Legislative races, three District 18 representatives appeared to be holding off three well-funded GOP challengers. The closest District 18 race had Rep. Branden Durst leading former legislator Julie Ellsworth by six points at press time.
District 16 Democrats also led three Republican candidates by approximately 60-40 margins, including two newcomers to the Legislature, attorney Grant Burgoyne and Garden City counselor Elfreda Higgins.
In the Western Ada County districts, Republicans appeared poised to hold onto their majorities.
House majority leader Mike Moyle led newcomer Michelle Waddell by some 4,000 votes and Rep. Raul Labrador led perennial Democratic candidate Glida Bothewell by some 5,000 votes.
In District 15, Rep. Max Black, a Republican, led challenger Greg Funk 52-44 at midnight, and in districts 20 and 21 Republicans held solid leads throughout the evening.
County races too close to call
In the Ada County Commission contest, at press time both races were too close to call. Democrat Paul Woods narrowly led Republican Sharon Ullman for the District 1 seat by just a few hundred votes: 47,852 to her 47,596. Woods ran on a platform of more open space and concentrated development, while Ullman has consistently advocated for lower taxes and more government transparency.
The District 2 race had larger margins, though only 26 percent of precincts had reported totals. Republican incumbent Rick Yzaguirre had the edge over Democrat David Langhorst with 49,781 to 45,246 votes. Both men are advocates for green space, but Langhorst says he'll bring stronger leadership. For Yzaguirre, a former mayor of Eagle, it would mean his third term on the commission.
This race will reflect the direction of Ada County's political tides more than any other. And Obama's fortunes in Ada County may lend a clue: Obama trailed McCain in Ada County by more than 4,000 votes late Tuesday night.