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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

It’s Paulette Jordan vs. Brad Little for Idaho governor

In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo Idaho state Rep. Paulette Jordan speaks during a women’s march rally in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)
By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE – Lt. Gov. Brad Little topped a crowded field of Republicans in Tuesday’s primary, capturing his party’s nomination for governor in a contentious race.

Little won 37.3 percent of the vote with 669 of 951 precincts reporting. Congressman Raul Labrador had 30.9 percent and physician and developer Tommy Ahlquist had 28.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Paulette Jordan, a two-term state representative and former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council member, pulled off an upset win in Idaho’s Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday over the party’s 2014 nominee, Boise businessman and longtime school board member A.J. Balukoff.

Jordan becomes the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for governor of Idaho. If she were to win in November – which is considered a long shot in GOP-dominated Idaho – she’d become the first Native American governor elected in the nation.

Balukoff noted he and Jordan are very close on the issues, from education and health care to protecting public lands. The unusual contested Democratic primary “got a lot of people energized on one side or the other. I think that’s good. It’s good for people to have choices,” he said. “It gives us a chance to talk about our priorities and what we hope to accomplish for our state.”

Jordan shunned her party’s election-night bash in Boise, instead gathering with her supporters a few blocks away at a Boise bar, where a band played and the noise was deafening. Her supporters cheered as the race was called in her favor. She said she wanted to bring all the people’s voices forward.

Meanwhile, Little was upbeat as the early results showed him in the lead.

“We made over 50,000 phone calls,” he said. “We had people, up to the very end, making phone calls, going door to door.”

Asked how this race has been for him, Little said, “Long.” He noted that he got into the race almost two years ago. “It got longer and longer,” he said.

On a positive note, he said, “The last two weeks have just been an incredibly beautiful time to travel around the state. … Idaho’s in all her grandeur the first two weeks of May.”

Labrador stayed closeted in a hotel room in Boise, not commenting on the early results.

The GOP race was a fiery one, with the three top rivals engaging in a bitter and hard-fought campaign in which they called each other liars, snakes and more.

“I’ve been around elections for 45 years, and this is the most negative gubernatorial primary I’ve ever seen,” said Ben Ysursa, a former longtime Idaho GOP secretary of state. He added, “I don’t like it – I don’t think it’s good for the process.”

Labrador is a brash fourth-term congressman and co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, who surprisingly trailed far behind the other two in fundraising and campaign presence, but is well-known in Idaho – particularly in the 1st Congressional District, which runs from West Boise to the Canadian border.

Little is the current lieutenant governor and former state senator who was strongly endorsed by outgoing three-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter. He’s a rancher, the scion of one of Idaho’s most storied ranching families, whose low-key manner shows his Emmett roots and whose deep, detailed knowledge of Idaho’s state government reflects his long history of engagement.

Boise physician and developer Tommy Ahlquist poured millions of his own money into his campaign, running as an outsider and businessman with fresh ideas. He did extensive, marathon tours of the state that included meeting with mayors, business owners, school superintendents and more.

Other state races

In other contested state races, former state Rep. Janice McGeachin, of Idaho Falls, had a narrow lead in a field of five in early results for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, while Kristin Collum, an Army veteran and high-tech executive from Boise, defeated Jim Fabe of Sun Valley for the Democratic nod.

With Little leaving the post to run for governor, the Republican primary race drew two sitting state senators, one current and one former state representative, and a former state Republican Party chairman to vie for the part-time position.

In the three-way GOP primary race for state treasurer – another open seat, with five-term GOP Treasurer Ron Crane retiring – former state Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, held the early lead. She faced off against current Ada County Treasurer Vicky McIntyre and Boise businessman and CPA Tom Kealey. No Democrat ran, so barring a write-in, the GOP nominee will win the office in November.

Crane’s tenure has been marked by controversy over everything from limousine use to multimillion-dollar investment losses, but he’s handily won re-election every four years for the past two decades. He endorsed McIntyre to succeed him.

State schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra easily defeated her GOP challenger, Wilder schools Superintendent Jeff Dillon. In November, she will face teacher Cindy Wilson, who easily won the Democratic primary for the post.