BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s red state roots haven’t faded, but political infighting inside its Republican Party has left many feeling disenfranchised with the so-called traditional GOP candidates who will appear on this year’s election ballot.
Tea party voters, who showed to be a powerful voting bloc in the May GOP primary election, are threatening to stay home or vote for a Democratic candidate rather than vote for the Republican.
This means Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third-term, could face a tighter race against Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, a millionaire who has said he’ll spend as much as he needs to win.
“I’ve never voted for a Democrat, I’ve been a lifelong Republican, but in November, I’m voting for Balukoff” said Rob Waite, superintendent of Shoshone School District in south-central Idaho.
Waite, who has lived in Idaho for the past five years, said he’s a libertarian who agrees with most of the tea party platforms.
As a superintendent, Waite said he’s most interested in the gubernatorial candidates’ plan to improve education in Idaho, citing low public school funding and lackluster college graduation rates as high areas of concern.
“In order to solve the problem, you first have to recognize there’s a problem,” Waite said. “I don’t think Otter recognizes there’s a problem.”
Up in northern Idaho, state GOP Rep. Vito Barbieri said it’s doubtful his conservative district would swing Democrat, but he thinks many voters will be likely to leave the governor’s box unchecked.
During the GOP May primary election, Barbieri’s district — located in Kootenai County, one of the state’s most populated areas — backed tea party favorite state Sen. Russ Fulcher in the governor’s race.
“Voters are still very upset at the governor for abandoning previously articulated principles,” he said. “They are very much in the mood to punish him in this election.”
Tea party backed candidates failed to win any of the statewide elected offices in the primary, but won key victories in legislative districts. While Republican factions have been building for years in Idaho, the party’s dysfunction came to head at the state’s chaotic GOP convention. Political infighting erupted as traditional Republicans and far right conservatives fought for control over the party.
“We’re certainly seeing the fallout,” said Balukoff campaign spokesman Mike Lanza. “What I’ve observed is that the effect is subtle but pervasive. … It’s reaching a tipping point for Republicans all over the political spectrum. They’re seeing a party in a condition that they’re not proud of.”
Lanza pointed to Otter’s failure to unite the party and his unsuccessful attempt to privatize a state prison as reasons why even the staunchest Republicans may be ready for a new leader.
“Otter doesn’t always deliver,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a surprising amount of people coming out of the woodwork this November.”
Otter’s campaign, however, denies that the political infighting is an issue.
“Like a family, sometimes there are speed bumps in the road or disagreements, but you work through those, and move on together,” said Kaycee Emery, Otter’s campaign spokeswoman, in an email. “The Republicans are banding together this election cycle, as they do during every election and are anticipating a high turnout on election day.”
Emery added that the recent selection of Idaho’s newest GOP chairman Steve Yates was also helping unite the Republican Party.
Idaho political analyst David Adler said the number of Republicans willing to vote for a Democratic candidate out of spite is few. Instead, he says it’s more likely GOP voters will stay home.
“By sitting out, voters can satisfy their anger without hurting their party,” Adler said, who is the director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. “My guess is that voter turnout could be a little lower this time around.”