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Idaho parties trying to increase state’s impact in selecting president

BOISE – Idaho may be small potatoes in the national presidential nominating process, but the Gem State is trying to position itself to have maximum impact on the process in both parties.

Idaho’s primary election normally isn’t until May, when most state contests already will have been decided. But the state’s minority Democrats will make their presidential selection at county caucuses on March 22, and its majority Republicans will step out even earlier, voting in a new, special presidential-only primary election scheduled for March 8 – just one week after Super Tuesday.

Idaho has 32 delegates at stake in the Republican presidential primary; it takes 1,237 to win the Republican nomination.

Dave Johnston, Idaho GOP executive director, isn’t fazed by those numbers. He notes that Iowa only has 30 delegates and New Hampshire has 23.

“We have more than both of those, I can tell you that much,” he said.

Already, Johnston said, Idaho’s early primary has attracted three GOP candidates to the state to campaign: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina. And he’s hopeful more will come.

“I do think we’re going to have a significant impact on who the presidential nominee is going to be for the Republicans,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good candidates for people to choose from, and there’s a lot of buzz going on about the whole thing.”

The March 8 primary results will determine the delegate breakdown for the GOP in Idaho. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, they’ll get all of Idaho’s delegates. If no one exceeds the 50 percent mark, every candidate who receives at least 20 percent of the vote will be awarded delegates on a proportional basis.

Johnston said the timing is right for candidates to see Idaho’s primary as a chance to bump up their post-Super Tuesday delegate totals.

The GOP primary election on March 8 is closed, meaning only registered party members can participate. More than half of Idaho’s registered voters aren’t affiliated with any party, but same-day registration at the polls is allowed. And because the March 8 primary falls before the March 11 deadline to switch affiliation, people who are registered with other parties can switch on the spot at the polls; they’ll then be considered registered members of their newly chosen party.

Idaho’s Democratic Party isn’t participating in the March 8 presidential primary. Instead, Democrats will hold county caucuses around the state on March 22 to choose their 27 delegates to the Democratic Party convention to Philadelphia in July. Sally Boynton Brown, party executive director, said Idaho previously had 24 delegates but was awarded three more because its March date – the same date as Arizona – gave it more heft.

The caucuses will elect delegates to the state convention, which will take place in June in Boise; there, delegates to the national convention will be elected. But they’ll be apportioned to candidates based on the results of the county caucuses.

On the Democratic side, a presidential candidate needs at least 15 percent support in the county caucuses to win delegates. County caucus participants must sign a pledge saying they’re members of the Democratic Party.

Idaho also will still hold a May 17 primary election for everything else except president. On the ballot then: every seat in the state Legislature, both seats in Congress, and Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo, who’s seeking a fourth term.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Idaho voters can switch party affiliation on the day of the presidential primary; legislation that had been pending to prevent that has failed.

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