Idaho's Senate, the Silver Lining for Conservatives
Idaho’s Republican primary was a battle between establishment and insurgent Republicans. While the top of the ticket draws most of the attention, the legislative races were unusually competitive. This was especially true of Idaho's Senate, where there will be more conservatives than at any time in recent memory. Today we will look at the results in the Senate. Tomorrow the results in the House.
Unusual Number of Competitive Races
Traditionally, around a third of Idaho incumbents are challenged each election. In 2022, nearly two-thirds were challenged. 72 of the Senate and House races had Republican battling against another Republican for the right to run in the general election. The previous high in the last decade was 44 in 2018.
In 2018, 39 of the seventy Republicans running for the Idaho House of Representatives ran unopposed, while 37 of the seventy ran unopposed in 2020. Only 7 House races were within ten percentage points in 2018 and eight in 2020.
In 2018, 19 of the thirty-five Republicans running for the Senate in the primaries were unopposed. 22 senate candidates were unopposed in the Republican primary in 2020. Only five senate races were within ten percentage points in both 2018 and 2020.
2022 presented a much different picture. Most of the seats were challenged in the primary. Only nine Republican primary candidates were unopposed for Senate seats, and only twenty-five were unopposed for House seats. Not only that but in eight senate races finished winners finished within ten points of their closed opponent. Some races are still too close to call.
Conservatives Surge in the Senate (except where they didn’t)
Lines were pretty clearly drawn in most races. Establishment candidates were endorsed by groups like Take Back Idaho. Insurgent Republicans were endorsed by PACs like ConservativesOf and StopIdaho RINOs.
It is difficult to beat incumbents. Last month, conservatives undertook a similar insurgent effort in Indiana and won just two seats in both the bodies combined. Idaho's insurgents were much more successful.
Five incumbents appear to have lost in Idaho’s Republican primary for the Senate. In District 1, both candidates spent more than $65,000 in the Republican primary. Scott Herndon, an insurgent candidate, appears to have defeated incumbent Sen. Jim Woodward 56%-44% with extremely heavy turnout. Similarly, newcomer Carle Bjerke is poised to unseat incumbent Sen. Peter Riggs decisively, 62%-38%, in District 5. Riggs outspend Bjerke by a substantial margin, $48,000 to less than $10,000 according to the sunshine report. Cindy Carlson seems to have ousted incumbent Sen. Carl Crabtree 49%-40% in a crowded race in District 7. Incumbent Sen. Jeff Agenbroard of Nampa also seems to have lost to newcomer Brian Lenney, though less of the vote is in, by a 58%-42% margin. Sen. Fred Martin also lost to Codi Galloway in District 15 decisively.
One more incumbent is on the ropes in a race that is too close to call. Sen. Jim Patrick of District 24 trails Glenneda Zuiderveld by 37 votes in the area south of Twin Falls. If Patrick loses, that would make six incumbent senators that lost in the Republican primary.
In addition to incumbents, establishment candidates lost to poorly funded insurgents or trail them as of this writing. Tara Malek trails insurgent Ben Toews 59% to 41% in District 4’s Senate race. House member Greg Chaney seems to have lost his bid to move up to the Senate to political newcomer Chris Trakel, despite outspending Trakel more than ten to one. I guess money can't by one love! Conservative firebrand Tammy Nichols of Middleton succeeded where Chaney seems to have failed, as she is moving from the House to the Senate, after defeating Scott Brock 58% to 42%.
Two crowded fields in Districts 8 and 9 yielded candidates endorsed by Take Back Idaho, the establishment PAC. Lack of coordination hurt the insurgents in both of these districts, where neither establishment candidate got over 35% of the vote.
Meridian ended up being taken by establishment Senators. Senate Pres. Pro Tem Chuck Winder survived in his closest ever, defeating newcomer Rosa Martinez 53-47% in District 20. Treg Bernt will be leaving the Meridian City Council to join the Senate, after defeating Thad Butterworth 61-39% in District 21. Todd Lakey brushed back a challenge from Steve Allmer 61-39% in District 23.
In the Mormon belt (Districts 28-35), all establishment candidates won their Senate races decisively.
The Idaho Senate will be a significantly different body heading into the next legislative session. Many incumbents have gone down or may go down. Tammy Nichols will be joining the Senate, and many more political newcomers are coming to upper chamber's way. The chart below contains the winners or those winning as of the time that this was published. All calls are from the unofficial counts of the Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, the rest of the state should learn from what happened in north Idaho and Canyon County, where well-heeled incumbents and establishment candidates lost to newcomers.