The Campaign Within

Idaho Dems vie for national delegate seats


Idaho Democrats have been united in support for presidential candidate Barack Obama, but the real competition is who gets to cast the votes as national delegates.

This year, an unprecedented number of candidates are vying for the opportunity to represent Idaho at the Democratic National Convention in August. So far, 52 candidates have submitted applications to run for 19 open delegate slot, said Jim Hansen, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party.

Serving as a delegate at the national convention is a big deal, since the Democratic candidate has yet to be decided. Delegates declare loyalty for their candidate in advance, but they could change their vote in Denver.

"We want to make sure that we're not just sending people just because they've been members of the party for a long time," said TJ Thomson, organizer for Idaho for Obama. "This convention is more important because of the closeness of the race—it is crucial that we are actually sending the people that have put in the time for their candidate."

That could mean that party members who have attended plenty of conventions may be ousted by the swarm of Obama enthusiasts.

"I think that we're going to see that the institution types—the dinosaurs in the Democratic Party—are not necessarily going to go this time around," Thomson said.

National delegates are elected from the 382 state delegates at the state convention.

Both congressional districts elect six national delegates, and the combined 12 select an additional superdelegate and two "party leader and elected official" delegates. Finally, all state delegates elect four at-large candidates. The party will send a total of 23 delegates to the national convention.

So far, the delegate candidates are not the usual suspects. Obama's campaign has brought people who are bidding for the delegate seats for the first time, including steadfast supporters like Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Rep. Nicole LeFavour.

"It's just like any typical campaign," Hansen said. "They have to convince people to vote for them, and that means getting their name out."

Some candidates are going to great effort and expense. Thomson is running with fellow organizer Kassie Cerami, and the duo has already spent more than $800 for letters and campaign flyers.

Other candidates will buy ads in newspapers, spend hours shaking hands, or using the Internet to get the word out.

For Idaho Democrats, this could be the last chance to have a say in the outcome of the presidential election. And for some delegate candidates, the convention means everything.

"It's the show," Thomson said. "When you're talking sports it's the Super Bowl; in politics it's the national convention."