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Eye On Boise

Risch campaigns for Rubio at Iowa caucus; Idaho tries to position itself for impact in nomination

As the presidential race focused on Iowa yesterday, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch was at an elementary school in Iowa Falls campaigning for Marco Rubio in the Iowa caucuses; Rubio finished third, with Ted Cruz in the lead and Donald Trump second.

Risch called Rubio “the one candidate in this race that can unite our party and win this election in November,” and said, “Iowans I have spoken to seem drawn to his inspiring message of a New American Century.”

Meanwhile, back in Idaho, the Gem State is trying to position itself to be more than small potatoes in the national presidential nominating process, with its new March 8 GOP presidential primary and its March 22 Democratic caucuses. I have a full look at Idaho’s process in today’s paper; it’s online here.

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.

Thirteen candidates are on the Idaho GOP presidential primary ballot, from Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Chris Christie to Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump. Idaho has 32 delegates at stake, out of the 2,472 total; it takes 1,237 to win the 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, it’ll be winner-takes-all: That candidate will 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.

Idaho’s Constitution Party also is participating in the March 8 presidential primary. It has three candidates on the ballot: The Rev. Scott Copeland, of Fort Worth, Texas; Patrick Ockander of San Antonio, Texas, and J.R. Myers of Soldotna, Alaska. 

Both the GOP and Constitution Party primary elections on March 8 are closed, meaning only registered party members can participate. More than half of Idaho’s registered voters aren’t affiliated with any party. But because Idaho allows same-day registration at the polls, unaffiliated voters can affiliate with the party on the spot and vote in the primary. 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, Dems will hold county caucuses around the state on March 22 to choose their presidential delegates. Idaho gets 24 delegates and two alternates to the national Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia in July; that’s out of a total nationwide of nearly 5,000. The caucuses will elect delegates to the state convention, which will take place June 16-18 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 have delegates representing them at the state convention. County caucus participants must sign a pledge saying they’re members of the Democratic Party.

Idaho also will still hold its May 17 primary election – it’ll be 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.

Here’s the full list of the 13 on Idaho’s GOP primary ballot: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Peter Messina, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump.

Thus far, Idahoans have donated $335,100 to presidential candidates, $265,076 to Republicans and $70,024 to Democrats, according to the Federal Election Commission. The candidate pulling in the largest amount from Idaho donors is GOP hopeful Ben Carson, followed by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Here’s the breakdown:

Ben Carson, R, $81,994

Hillary Clinton, D, $46,392

Ted Cruz, R, $44,463

Rand Paul, R, $40,206

Jeb Bush, R, $25,455

Carly Fiorina, R, $25,320

Bernie Sanders, D, $21,332

Marco Rubio, R, $15,712

Scott Walker, R, $14,480

John Kasich, R, $8,050

Donald Trump, R, $4,221

Rick Perry, R, $2,800

Mike Huckabee, R, $1,425

Jim Webb, D, $1,250

Bobby Jindal, R, $950

Larry Lessig, D, $550

Martin O’Malley, D, $500

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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