After a decade of Republican dominance so strong that a U.S. Senate seat went uncontested just two years ago, GOP candidates in Idaho’s top races – for governor and an open seat in Congress – found themselves fighting for every vote.
“A lot of people in the beginning just thought that there was no race here,” said Republican candidate for governor Butch Otter.
“Those huge leads have a tendency to disappear.”
Otter found himself locked in a tight race for governor with Democrat Jerry Brady, with polls showing a dead heat the week before the election. Otter took the lead, though, as results flowed in on election night, and he was buoyant as he and his wife, Lori, greeted supporters at a GOP celebration.
Idaho’s 1st District congressional race turned around years of easy Republican walks to victory, emerging as a hard-fought match between conservative Republican state Rep. Bill Sali and former Micron Technology executive Larry Grant, a moderate Democrat.
The race remained too close to call throughout the night.
Idaho Democratic Party spokesman Chuck Oxley said, “In a sense, Democrats have already won, because Republicans have never had to work so hard for an election in recent memory.”
He added, “I don’t think anybody could say that Democrats are irrelevant in Idaho anymore.”
In legislative races, Republican incumbents held their ground, but margins were a bit tighter than expected.
Republican Jim Hammond, of Post Falls, will likely replace retiring Sen. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene, after beating out Democrat challenger Chuck Thomas.
In the House, Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Post Falls, won re-election as did Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.
In Coeur d’Alene, however, Democrats surged.
Democrat Rep. George Sayler, the assistant minority leader, fought off a challenge from political newcomer and Republican Sharon Culbreth with 58 percent of the vote in early returns.
In the Senate race, Democrat Steven Foxx, 28, was a couple hundred votes behind longtime Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. Goedde had 49 percent of the vote in early returns while Foxx had 46 percent.