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Eye On Boise

By the numbers: Incumbent Idaho guvs almost always win primaries, but record spottier for general

Political scientist Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs has dug up some interesting numbers in light of 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador’s announcement yesterday that he won’t challenge Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary this year. Among them: Only two Idaho governors seeking re-election since 1904 have failed to win their party’s nomination, Democrat Barzilla Clark in 1938 and Republican Robert Smylie in 1966.

However, once they get to the general election, incumbent Idaho governors historically haven’t done as well. Only 19 of 30 incumbent governors – 63 percent – who sought re-election won. The record’s even worse for GOP governors: 10 victories and 7 defeats since statehood, with eight not seeking re-election. That’s a 58.8 percent success rate. Democratic governors have won nine of 13 re-election bids, or 69 percent, with five not choosing to run for re-election.

Another tidbit: Since 1954, only three GOP candidates for governor were unopposed in the primary: Robert Smylie in 1958, Jack Murphy in 1974, and David Leroy in 1986.

Ostermeier also notes that only three Idaho governors were ever elected at least three times to the post, as Otter will attempt in his bid for a third term: Ben Ross, Robert Smylie and Cecil Andrus. You can read his full report here; it’s rich with historical detail and worth a look.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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