Primary Postmortem: Idaho

This post is a guest piece by Cameron Douglas, a former Republican staffer at the Idaho House of Representatives.

Well, the Idaho primaries promised drama, and they certainly did not disappoint.

Of the five statewide offices with competitive Republican primaries, the “establishment” candidate won four, although all were closer than I expected and two more incumbents fell.

Incumbent Governor Brad Little defeated his own Lieutenant Governor, Janice McGeachin (pronounced ma-GEE-in) by 20 points. McGeachin, endorsed by Trump, had gained a lot of notoriety through her confrontational style, her close relationship with militia groups, and her appearances at a conference organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes. Little had come under fire for allowing cities and counties to implement COVID restrictions that some conservatives saw as too restrictive.

Current House Speaker Scott Bedke defeated Representative Priscilla Giddings, one of the main Freedom Caucus stalwarts, by nine points. Bedke has been Speaker since 2012, the longest tenure in that office in Idaho history, and now will almost certainly be presiding over the body across the rotunda next year.

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane won a very tight race for Secretary of State, defeating Freedom Caucus Rep. Dorothy Moon 43% to 41.4%. Outgoing Senator Mary Souza played spoiler, winning 15.5%.

Debbie Critchfield, a Bedke ally and former member of the state Board of Education, won a chaotic three-way race, coming in six points ahead of former Representative Branden Durst (an ally of the conservative-libertarian Idaho Freedom Foundation) and thirteen points ahead of incumbent Sherri Ybarra.

It’s the attorney general race where the establishment faltered. 20-year incumbent Lawrence Wasden lost his bid for a sixth term to former Tea Party US Congressman Raúl Labrador by thirteen and a half points. Labrador promises to be more aggressive in pushing conservative priorities via lawsuits and to devote more resources to defending any similarly aggressive legislation in court.

The top-line news will be that the establishment candidates won most of the statewide races, but at the legislative level, we’re looking at a very different picture. Twenty sitting members of the legislature — twenty! — lost their bids for reelection. 2022 flipped the normal script, where several high-profile conservatives were defeated in the House but conservative challengers cleaned up in the Senate. 

Here is the full list of the incumbents (including House members running for Senate seats) who lost on Tuesday, with notes on the ones I attempted to predict. You can read the piece posted on CNalysis a few days before the primary here.

District 1 – Senate

Bonner County Republican Central Committee chairman Scott Herndon defeated incumbent Jim Woodward by twelve points, in a race I got wrong.

District 4 – House Seat A

Conservative insurgent candidate Joe Alfieri, who narrowly lost a race for mayor of Coeur d’Alene in 2021, defeated second-term incumbent Jim Addis by four and a half points.

District 4 – House Seat B

Elaine Price, another conservative challenger, narrowly defeated House Ways and Means chairman Paul Amador. Amador had come under particular fire from the right because Ways and Means is the “kill committee” in the House, where many of the Freedom Caucus’ bills that leadership opposed were sent to die.

District 5 – Senate

Carl Bjerke, a California transplant (former deputy chief of the Santa Monica Fire Department), walloped first-term incumbent Peter Riggs by 24 points. Bjerke had the endorsement of the Kootenai County GOP, which is more conservative and more willing to get involved in primaries than the state party.

District 6 – Senate

Former one-term Senator Dan Foreman, a firebrand conservative, defeated appointed incumbent Robert Blair by eight points.

District 7 – Senate

In another race I got wrong, self-described “hardcore conservative” Cindy Carlson unseated third-term incumbent and Finance Committee vice chair Carl Crabtree by eight and a half points.

District 8 – Senate

House member Terry Gestrin lost his bid for promotion, coming in second in a four-way race just under five points behind Mountain Home City Councilman Geoff Schroeder. Schroeder is a moderate, one of the few bright spots for that wing of the party in the Senate elections on Tuesday.

District 9 – Senate

Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee won this four-way race, knocking out sixth-term incumbent and Local Government and Taxation Committee chairman Jim Rice, who came in third. Second place went to gun manufacturer and conservative favorite Jordan Marques, five points behind Lee and five ahead of Rice. I called the race correctly, sort of – I had Lee winning but Rice second.

District 9 – House Seat A

Jacyn Gallagher, a Washington County GOP Precinct Committeeperson, narrowly upset House Education Committee Vice Chair Ryan Kerby. Kerby helped to kill a school-choice bill popular among conservatives during the 2022 session, and that likely helped motivate the turnout against him.

District 9 – House Seat B

As of this writing, incumbent Freedom Caucus Rep. Judy Boyle leads incumbent moderate Rep. Scott Syme by six (6) votes. This will almost certainly head for a recount, but either way, an incumbent is going home.

District 11 – Senate

Chris Trakel, Republican precinct committeeman and former candidate for mayor of Caldwell, defeated House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Chaney by seven and a half points. I called this one the other way as well.

District 13, Senate

In what was probably the most surprising upset of the evening, conservative challenger Brian Lenney knocked off Finance Committee chairman Jeff Agenbroad by fifteen points. 

District 14 – Senate

Incumbent Senator C. Scott Grow – vice chair of Local Government and Taxation – defeated incumbent Senator Steven Thayn, chairman of Education. 

District 14 – House Seat B

Eagle Fire Commissioner Josh Tanner mounted a successful challenge from the right to Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, winning by eleven points. DeMordaunt had championed several of the high-profile pieces of socially conservative legislation in 2022, but that wasn’t enough to save her.

District 15 – Senate

First-term Representative Codi Galloway defeated incumbent Senator Fred Martin. Martin was very moderate; Galloway is as conservative as you can reasonably get in a swing seat (which this district, on the west side of Boise, is); the margin was almost twelve points in Galloway’s favor.

District 22 – House Seat A

As expected, Rep. John Vander Woude defeated Freedom Caucus Rep. Greg Ferch, though by a smaller margin (seven points) than I anticipated.

District 24 – Senate

In this district near Twin Falls, conservative challenger Glenneda Zuiderveld currently holds a lead of 37 votes over 5th-term Senator Jim Patrick, the chair of the Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

District 31 – House Seat A

As I predicted, establishment-friendly former Representative Jerald Raymond unseated Freedom Caucus Rep. Karey Hanks by ten points.

District 34 – House Seat B

As of this writing, moderate former Rep. Britt Raybould leads Freedom Caucus ringleader Rep. Ron Nate by 36 votes. 

District 35 – House Seat B

Freedom Caucus Rep. Chad Christensen lost to relatively moderate challenger Josh Wheeler by four points.

One other non-incumbent upset is also worth noting: Ben Toews defeated Tara Malek pretty handily in the Senate race in District 4.

Closing Thoughts

I’m struck by the geographic split, which is somewhat expected but even more dramatic than usual. All nine sitting senators who lost to challengers from their right were from either the north and west portions of the state, or the Treasure Valley. In the statewide races, McGeachin, Giddings, and Moon all won North Idaho, though their margins there weren’t enough to overcome substantial leads by eventual winners Little, Bedke, and McGrane in Ada and the east. 

The moderates cleaned up in the eastern part of the state on the legislative level as well – three of the four Freedom Caucus House members who lost were from that area, though counting PAC money the moderates had to spend hundreds of thousands apiece to unseat Karey Hanks, Chad Christensen, and Ron Nate. 

What does all this mean for next year’s legislature? Well, first and foremost, the Senate will be a dramatically different place, with more than half its members being freshmen and a substantial conservative bloc. This will make the caucus leadership elections especially interesting to watch – the right flank will no doubt try to unseat President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder (who himself had a much-closer-than-expected primary challenge on Tuesday). 

On the House side, several high-profile agitators in the right bloc won’t be returning, but it’s unlikely that the chamber as a whole will get appreciably more moderate. With outgoing Speaker Scott Bedke now on a glide path to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, the House will have new leadership for the first time in a decade. 

There are a few seats that will be competitive in the general election in November, but the next defining moment in Idaho politics will be the organizational session in early December.