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Passing On Hillary

Idaho snores as Hillary scores

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Idaho might wake up some morning this week to hear that Hillary Clinton has quit the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

She might also, pending the results from the Texas and Ohio primaries, stay in the race and fight on against Barack Obama.

Hearing the news, Idaho just might roll over and go back to sleep. Clinton only keeps Idaho up, it seems, if she gets the nomination. The former first lady hasn't quite caught on in the Gem State. Consider the reactions to, and the investment by, the respective candidates: Obama opened offices in the state, then showed up for a rally. Idaho Democrats swooned hard over Obama when he came to Boise. More than 14,000 people filled the Taco Bell Arena to hear him speak. By many reckonings, it was the largest political rally in Idaho in decades.

Clinton, on the other hand, hasn't stirred the pot quite so much in Idaho. Her presence and support here are anemic at best.

Why should she throw money at Idaho? Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, lost the state by 20 percent when he ran for re-election in 1996. For what it's worth, leading Idaho Democrats say, the Clinton coattails are not worth grabbing ahold of.

Just ask the Idaho Democratic Party's chairman, Keith Roark, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general against Republican Lawrence Wasden in 2002. Roark, a Hailey attorney, said the Clinton magic, as prevalent as it may be nationwide, is not felt locally.

"However popular he may have been among Democrats nationally, Bill Clinton was intensely unpopular in the state of Idaho," Roark said. "The specter of another Clinton running at the top of the ticket in Idaho is something most candidates in Idaho would not look forward to." Instead, many candidates are hooking their wagon to the Obama star, and hoping that if he really lives up to his own hype of transformational politics, they too might get a bump in an electorate dominated by Republicans and independents.

The online underbelly of the Idaho Democratic movement, the bloggers, have taken up the cry as well. Jill Kuraitis, a former Democratic activist, wrote in her blog on NewWest.net in an open letter to Hillary Clinton that her candidacy was a non-starter.

"It's clearly the will of the party—more states, more delegates—that Obama is our nominee. He's ignited a new generation, and they won't donate or volunteer if you're the nominee. To them, you're old-timey. If you're the nominee, we'll lose," Kuraitis wrote. "You've lost touch with the Democratic zeitgeist, especially in the West."

That may be the kicker: In the Intermountain West, Democrats often fight an uphill battle against reflexive Republican tendencies.

"Idaho voters tend to believe that things are in pretty good shape in the state, but they're going to hell in a handbasket nationally," Roark said.

Messaging is everything; witness the once-popular bumper sticker that some Idaho Democrats still display, declaring them to be a "gun-totin' Idaho Democrat."

In his New York Times column, Timothy Egan referred to Idaho as the "prime rib of Red America," but then noted, with some shock, that Obama had made inroads into places "where Democrats are harder to find than a decent bagel."

Part of a local candidate's troubles, Roark believes, can be traced all the way to the top of a ticket. He saw this in 1992, when Idaho Democrats held several statewide elected posts. "Within two years of Bill Clinton getting sworn in, we lost all of them," Roark said.

Few people will openly speculate about whether disdain of Clinton among white males is linkable to gender or to her in particular.

For what it's worth, she has more or less returned the favor to Idaho. While Obama puzzled many in the state by opening offices in Idaho, Clinton put her money and her energy elsewhere.

And the paybacks continue. Of the five so-called superdelegates Idaho will send to the Democratic Party's national convention in Denver this August, three are already pledged to Obama, including Jeanne Buell, the chairwoman of the Idaho party, and national committeeman Grant Burgoyne and national committeewoman Gail Bray. A fourth superdelegate will be decided at the convention.

The fifth belongs to Roark, who has yet to officially commit, he said.

"I'm still holding out," he said.

—Shea Andersen

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