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The stars are lining up for Democrats for the 2018 midterms. Trump’s approval ratings are some of the lowest seen by any president, hovering from 35 percent to 40 percent approval rating, compared to his current 53.6 percent disapproval. In generic congressional polling, Democrats are up by 7 percent. They even got a Democratic senator elected in Alabama a few months ago. On average, Democrats have done 14 points better in special elections in comparison to the 2016 election.
Back home in Idaho, there are currently seven statewide positions open for the 2018 election: governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general, state controller, superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state, along with all the state House and Senate seats.
Yet with all the optimism from Democrats, conservative states like Idaho will most likely continue the trend of Republican dominance. The entire state is so entrenched in the Republican Party, Democrats have little chance to gain ground in the statehouse, let alone the governor’s seat.
Even with all of this positive news for the left, don’t bet on any of this national blue wave influencing Idaho’s political landscape.
One of the reddest states in the union
Let’s get some of the facts out of the way first. Fire is hot. Water is wet. Idaho is conservative. Idaho is the second most conservative state in the country only behind Mississippi. To anyone that has spent time here, that is far from surprising, thanks to the mix the state’s demographics and how rural it is. The state’s population is homogeneous, with whites making up 93.3 percent of the state’s population. This creates the perfect playground for Republicans to win. On top of that, Idaho is one of the 24 Republican trifectas in the country, with Republicans controlling the governor’s seat, state Senate and House. They have had the majority since 1993. The bad news for Democrats in Idaho doesn’t stop there. Democrats already had a small minority in the state House prior to the 2016 elections but made it even worse by losing three seats in the House and one in the Senate during the 2016 elections. Democrats are now outnumbered 17 to 88 in the state’s government. In a previous Arbter article entitled, “Local parties discuss thoughts as Election Day draws near,” Democratic leadership in Idaho felt confident in gaining more ground in the state before the 2016 elections. But they instead lost seats in the State Legislature. Democrats would need a tsunami or a huge miracle to even remotely catch up to Republicans.
Fighting where they can
With Idaho being so overwhelmingly conservative, Democrats need to focus on Ada County and the Idaho panhandle before hoping to gain control of either chamber of the Statehouse. Democrats in Idaho need to focus on local issues while leaving behind the national platform. Democrats may have unveiled a populist economic agenda as a rebuttal to the GOP’s platform, but in practice Democrats have instead been using an anti-Trump strategy for their political stances. That kind of rhetoric and political focus won’t do them any favors in this state. Ada County is the closest place that Democrats have to a stronghold and still went for Trump by 9.2 percent. Ada County is the most populous and liberal county in the state, and if it can’t turn blue with Trump on the ballot, it’s hard to imagine it turning blue for the state wide elections due to personal attacks on Trump alone. Idaho Democrats need to focus on local issues and give Idahoans a reason to vote for them.
Finally, for the Democratic wave to hit Idaho, the Idaho Democratic Party might want to contest more races and try to be competitive. In 2016, Democrats let 24 of 105 races go uncontested. With every governors race, it looks like the party is throwing a few sheep to be chewed up by the wolves just to put up the facade that they are being competitive. While there will be a steady stream of positive news for Democrats heading into midterms, Idaho Democrats are still playing it safe, and neither will flip the script of Idaho Republicans dominating state politics. For the IDP to reclaim any ground that they lost in 2016, they need to scrap their current strategy and be on the offensive by contesting more races throughout the state.
While the national Democratic Party is in a good position for the 2018 elections, its extremely doubtful that this will have any impact on Idaho’s political landscape. The state is overwhelmingly Republican, with the GOP having near complete control on every level of the state, and Democrats lost some of what little power they had in 2016. At best, Idaho might turn a few shades lighter red and definitely won’t become purple or blue after this year’s elections.