Ezra Klein's LA Times op-ed about the extent to which Hillary Clinton actually polarizes voters was interesting in itself, but especially interesting in the context of Idaho Democrats'
anti-Clinton pro-Obama push as of late. Many Idaho Democrats (amongst other Westerners) are concerned about the down-ticket effect that Clinton might have on other candidates in the state. It's no surprise that Clinton isn't a popular figure in Idaho, but Klein argues that Clinton's high negatives aren't any worse than the stats that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush rode into office - twice each. Klein:
Before his successful 2004 reelection campaign, George W. Bush was viewed favorably by 52% of the populace and unfavorably by 47%. That means he was even more unpopular than Hillary Clinton is today -- yet he won. Worse yet, at the end of his 1992 election campaign, Bill Clinton was rated unfavorably by 49% of voters (thanks, in part, to Gennifer Flowers and allegations of draft dodging), and during his 1996 reelection campaign, 44% of voters said they had an unfavorable impression of him. Yet not only did he win both elections, he's one of the most popular political figures in the country.
This is all well and good when we're speaking about a national race for one office, but voters in Idaho have long understood their irrelevance to the Presidential race anyway.
No one is expecting Idaho's electoral votes to go toward anyone but the Republican nominee for President, but there is cautious optimism for other Democratic candidates in Idaho this year. The state party's gotten quite ambitious with its ground game, we look forward to a vigorous three-way primary for the 1st CD nomination, and there are rumblings about Larry LaRocco's campaign gaining ground in competition for Larry Craig's* presumptively open Senate seat.
Looking at election results from the past several elections, I don't notice much of a down-ticket effect, either in presidential election years or election years where there is no presidential race. The clearest trend, until 2006's election, is Idaho's increasingly locked-in status as a Republican state. Bill Clinton - if not the most liberal, definitely the largest-looming boogeyman in a Republican's dreams between he, Kerry and Gore - got a larger plurality (33.6% vs. Dole's 52.2%) of Idaho's votes than either Kerry (30.3% vs. Bush's 68.4%) or Gore (27.6% vs. Bush's 67.2%) did in their elections. Down-ticket races basically followed suit, with Democrats as shut out in 2004 as they were in 2000.
2006 was the year I actually started volunteering in and following Idaho politics very closely, so it's hard for me to very accurately gage things like momentum. But comparing congressional and gubernatorial numbers between 2006 and 2002, I'm confident that I can't chalk entirely up to my imagination a change in momentum. Democrats showed improvement in their vote numbers in both CDs, as well as the governor's race.
I'm positive that Hillary-phobia is endemic in Idaho, but I'm not so sure that a race so predictable in Idaho as the one for US President is going to have much effect on Idaho's other elections. I'm also a little lonesome in this opinion, so I'm not willing to make any bets. Looking at past election numbers, though, I'd rather see Idaho Democrats attempt to capitalize on dissatisfied Republican voters and a stable, strong state party than try to dodge a Hillary bullet.
*It is apparently hard to make it in Idaho politics if you are not named Larry.