Experts: GOP convention drama could repel voters

BOISE (AP) — Days after Idaho Republicans walked away angry and defeated from the conclusion of the GOP convention, party leaders say the event may have damaged the GOP’s efforts to win elections and attract voters.

Idaho’s Republican convention ended last week after failing to elect a new state party chairman or amend its party platform. It’s the first time party delegates failed to accomplish anything in nearly 60 years.

Idaho political analyst Jim Weatherby said the lack of unity at the GOP convention —as well as inside the Idaho Republican Party — could result in fewer people willing to put in the critical volunteer hours needed to encourage people to vote.

Idaho is a Republican-dominated state, so there isn’t a threat that Democrats could surge ahead on election day in November, Weatherby said. But there is a chance that GOP political divisions between tea party forces and establishment candidates could make political races much more competitive for Republican candidates facing challengers, he said.

Volunteers for the party play an important role in informing voters for the first time about a candidate, Weatherby said. Without them, simply having “Republican” by a candidate’s name will not lead to a large turnout of voters for the candidate, he said.

Almost every statewide elected office — including the governor’s spot and state schools superintendent post — is being contested by a Democratic candidate in the November election. While establishment Republican candidates won the majority of statewide elected seats in the May primary election, tea party favorites strengthened their hold on the legislative level, particularly in the northern half of the state.

The friction between the two sides came to a head at the GOP convention, resulting in a meltdown on the last day of the event after delegates spent hours using parliamentary procedures against each other in an attempt to gain control. In the end, the only votes delegates completed were ones that booted out other Republicans from participating in the convention.

“I’m not predicting any major changes in November,” Weatherby said. But “if a faction within the party decides to sit out or decides not to vote for a certain office, it could make some races more challenging.”

The rancor could hurt fundraising for campaigns and efforts to attract voters, said Boise lobbyist and former Republican state Sen. Bill Roden.

Roden, who first attended the annual Idaho GOP convention in the 1950s, said this was the first time he could remember a convention ending with nothing to show for it.

Roden added, however, that while conventions may be important to delegates who attend them, it’s not unusual for the average voter to be unaware of the party’s platform planks or who is the state party chair.

Ultimately, the necessity of a party convention may be waning, Roden said.

“Elections are won on a local level, not by passing a new amendment in the party platform,” he said.

Twin Falls County GOP chairman Steven Millington said he fears the political fighting may deter younger voters from becoming involved in the Idaho Republican Party.

Currently, Idaho must address reforming its education system and find ways to offer better-paying jobs, Millington said. But if the public only sees Republicans fighting over who should have control over the party, like what happened at the GOP convention, young people may be turned off from participating in state politics.

“We want to bring some sanity to this party again,” he said.