Widely varying turnout around the state meant that of the six legislative incumbents defeated in the May 20 primary, two were turned out of office by just tiny slices of the electorates in their districts. The lowest-turnout races that dumped incumbents were the defeat of longtime Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate Education Committee chairman, by activist Mary Souza – in which just 3,440 people cast ballots, 15 percent of registered voters; and the defeat of freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, by Eric Redman, in which 4,736 people voted, 18.5 percent of the registered voters in the district.
Goedde’s districts has 22,545 registered voters; Morse’s has 25,604.
GOP primary voters also ousted longtime Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover; Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth; longtime Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis; and freshman Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg. But those races saw considerably higher turnout. Hancey’s race had close to the state average turnout in the race, at 25 percent of registered voters. Barrett’s had 32 percent – 8,356 total ballots cast – in her defeat by rancher Merrill Beyeler; and Pearce’s saw 31.5 percent turnout in his defeat by Abby Lee. BSU professor emeritus Jim Weatherby said both Beyeler and Lee ran strong campaigns in their districts.
In Eskridge’s race, there was 29 percent turnout and a total of 7,166 ballots cast as voters chose tea party challenger Sage Dixon to replace the longtime lawmaker and joint budget committee member. Eskridge noted two factors: Tea party opponents had been organizing and campaigning against the incumbents in his district for months; and the ballot included two hotly contested local levies, one for West Bonner schools that passed by 22 votes, and one to expand the Bonners Ferry library, which failed. “I think a lot of the people that came out in opposition to the levy voted against us,” he said.
Incumbent Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, won her primary by a 487-vote margin; retiring Rep. Eric Anderson’s race saw a tea party candidate, Heather Scott, victorious in the GOP primary over Stephen Snedden, who’d been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter. Eskridge said while opponents were highly motivated, he also heard from some of his supporters that they weren’t willing to vote in the primary because they didn’t like being forced to publicly register their party affiliation under the GOP’s closed primary rule. “One said, ‘I refused to sign my name as a Republican, even though that’s what I am,’” he said.