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Idaho, Washington not election harbingers

States have shaky record of picking president

There was a time in the mid-20th century when, as Washington and Idaho went in presidential elections, so went the country.

But voters in the two states have been imperfect bellwethers before and since.

Spokane County voters have been a little better. They’ve voted for the candidate who eventually won the Electoral College count in 25 of the 30 presidential elections since Washington and Idaho became states.

Kootenai County voters picked 22 out of 30, but have the longer winning streak, voting for the presidential winner in every election from 1916 to 1972.

As new states for the 1892 election, neither Washington nor Idaho selected Democrat Grover Cleveland in his return to the White House after he’d been out of office for a term. Washington and Spokane County went with the sitting president, Republican Benjamin Harrison. Idaho and Kootenai County went with Populist James Weaver, who won four states that year.

The next time around, the nation went for Republican William McKinley; Washington and Idaho went for William Jennings Bryan. Washington and Spokane County would switch to McKinley four years later, but Idaho and Kootenai County stuck with Bryan.

Teddy Roosevelt was a hit in both states and the two adjoining counties in 1904, as was his replacement, William Howard Taft, in 1908. In fact, Roosevelt was such a hit that he carried Washington and won both Spokane and Kootenai counties during his third-party run in 1912.

Four years later, the two states and the two counties began a run of picking the eventual winner that would hold up for more than a half century. Many of those races resulted in easy victories for the eventual winner, although 1948 was a close race between Harry Truman and Thomas E. Dewey, and both states and both counties went with Truman. Kootenai County went for John Kennedy in 1960, but Spokane County and the two states went for Richard Nixon, breaking their streaks. All four picked Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter in 1976, but all four went for Ronald Reagan in the next two elections.

After Reagan, the differences between the two states became more pronounced, and Washington has always backed the Democratic nominee, while Idaho and Kootenai County have always backed the Republican. Spokane County has been more competitive in some of those races, giving the largest share of its votes to Republican nominees most years but backing Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.