How Idaho Democrats Could Win

Strategy includes a lot of retail politics and some help from the far-right wing of the GOP


Politics on the back of a napkin--campaigns are won and lost from strategies mapped out next to coffee stains. So it wasn't uncharacteristic for Larry Grant, chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, to grab a stray napkin and do some quick vote counting. In particular, he was mapping out the newly redrawn Idaho 2nd Congressional District, represented by seven-term Republican Rep. Mike Simpson and challenged by Democratic Boise State Sen. Nicole LeFavour.

"I've looked at the numbers and she can win," said Grant as he mapped out the district on the napkin.

"The district includes the North End of Boise, as well as the Boise Bench and east side of the city. Add in Democratic-friendly Blaine County, downtown Pocatello, downtown Idaho Falls, downtown Twin Falls. I'm telling you, that's half the vote right there.

"According to the [National Committee for an Effective Congress], the 2nd District has 42 percent of what they call a democratic performance, and there's something called a 'persuadable' sector of the voting public and that's 17 percent in the 2nd District."

The numbers surprised more than a few people at the June 14-16 Idaho Democratic State Convention, not the least of which was LeFavour.

"Larry's numbers are impressive and rather surprising," LeFavour said. "But I must admit that as I travel to small towns across the district, far from Boise, I'm so surprised when people recognize me and my work at the Legislature. That's something that Mike Simpson or any amount of his money can't get."

But LeFavour is the first to admit that she needs money aplenty.

"I think it's pretty impressive that I've raised $100,000 by mid-June, but I need about $180,000 in the next two weeks," said LeFavour. "But I'm proud to say that all of my donations have come from individuals, not political action committees."

Grant conceded that a good chunk of the money that LeFavour will need to raise between now and November will be from outside of Idaho and, yes, that would include PACs.

"But I'm pretty sure she can get it. There's a lot of excitement about her and our full slate of legislative candidates this November," said Grant.

The slate is one of the most-robust ever put out by Idaho Democrats. The party recruited more than 90 statehouse candidates and 82 of them will be on the Tuesday, Nov. 6, ballot, representing every district except three: No. 14, which includes Eagle and Star, and Nos. 27 (Mindoka and Cassia counties) and 30 (Bonneville County).

Grant said some of the Democratic candidates had better odds of being elected than others but having a near-full slate was imperative.

"You never know when somebody is going to have too much to drink and take somebody's SUV," said Grant, referring to former Republican Sen. John McGee, who won by a comfortable margin two years ago but resigned from the Senate following a string of charges involving a 2011 Father's Day drunken-driving incident and alleged impropriety with a Senate attache.

"And you never know when a lawmaker is going to refuse to pay their taxes," referring to Athol Republican Rep. Phil Hart, who also won by a wide margin two years ago but lost in the May GOP primary while dodging charges of tax evasion.

Morgan Hill, House minority chief of staff, was paying particular attention to the age of the Democratic candidates on this year's ballot. He's also the president of the Idaho Young Democrats.

"If you look at the youth vote in 2010, it was terrible," said Hill. "We're going to change that. The jobs outlook, education and human-rights equality are such big issues for young adults in Idaho. And ethics comes up time and again among our peers."

To be eligible for membership in the Idaho Young Democrats, an individual is supposed to be 36 years old or younger. Holli High Woodings fits right in. The 33-year-old mother is running for House Seat B in Boise's District 19. But politics isn't in her bloodline.

"My gosh, no. I come from a family of loggers," said Woodings. "But I have a drive to make things better. I spent a lot of time during the primary knocking on about 1,500 doors. And the Republicans' war on women is really on a lot of people's minds. It really resonates and it transcends party lines. When the Republicans introduced the ultrasound bill, it disenfranchised so many women. And I wouldn't be surprised if the Republicans bring it back next year."

Mary Staley couldn't be happier about Woodings' candidacy, even though she can't vote for her. Staley, 84, is from Fresno, Calif., and represents the National Women's Political Caucus.

"That's why I'm here. To raise funds and show support for more female candidates," said Staley. "The lack of women in the Idaho Legislature is an abomination."

Staley sells T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers to raise the funds. Her big sellers in Boise included shirts that said: "Friends don't let friends vote Republican" and "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

In fact, Grant is certain that education could well become the prime issue come Election Day. In particular, he said the GOP's attack on the teachers' union will backfire.

"They went after trade unions with Right to Work. Now they're after teachers with the Luna laws," said Grant, referring to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's school-reform package. "Next, they'll go after police and firemen. I would remind the GOP that the election is in November and school starts in September. Teachers, parents and even students aren't going to be too happy about how things are."