5 things to watch in the Idaho primary

Gem State voters go to the polls Tuesday for the state’s primary election.

WHAT’S AT STAKE? In Idaho, the primary election is often the most fiercely fought contest between candidates. The winners of the GOP primary almost always go on to win in November as they usually don’t face serious opposition from Democrats.

WHAT ARE THE TOP RACES? Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is seeking his third term, but he’s facing a sharp challenge from state Sen. Russ Fulcher. Fulcher has criticized Otter for creating a state-based health care exchange under the nation’s new health care law. Meanwhile Otter says if returned to office he’d work to continue strengthening the state’s economy.

Another closely-watched contest is in the 2nd Congressional District. Rep. Mike Simpson is seeking a ninth term. His opponent, Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, received early backing from the anti-tax Club for Growth.

TESTING THE TEA PARTY? Fulcher and Smith are both backed by the tea party, as are many other candidates in the Republican primary. Tuesday’s election is seen as a referendum on how much influence the tea party will have on Idaho’s Republicans going forward. The tea party is frustrated by what it sees as incumbent Republicans not being conservative enough on issues like taxes and the federal stewardship of state lands.

HOW RED IS IDAHO? The last time the state voted for a Democrat in the presidential election was 1964, when President Lyndon Jonson narrowly defeated the GOP nominee, Barry Goldwater. However Idaho voters sent a Democrat to Congress in 2008, when Walt Minnick served one term from the 1st Congressional District.

NEW FANS OF IDAHO POLITICS? There’s a chance that people beyond Idaho will be watching Tuesday’s results. Video of last week’s gubernatorial debate has gone viral. A pair of fringe contenders stole the show from Otter and Fulcher, using their time to discuss Armageddon, discrimination against motorcycle clubs and problems with political correctness. Otter had made sure that Walt Bayes and Harley Brown were included in the debate, a move slammed by Fulcher, who said Otter set the state up for ridicule.

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