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Gov. Brad Little defeats Trump-backed McGeachin in Idaho primary

FILE - Idaho Gov. Brad Little leaves the house chambers after he delivers his State of the State address at the state Capitol building, on Jan. 10, 2022 in Boise, Idaho. Little is seeking a second term. Idaho's primary elections are Tuesday, May 17, 2022.  (Otto Kitsinger)
Associated Press

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has earned a second GOP nomination at the helm of one the nation’s most conservative states.

In unofficial tallies posted early Wednesday, Little secured the nomination over Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin 53% to 32%. Little never trailed in statewide counts, and with 10 of Idaho’s 44 counties partially reporting, and three counties fully reported, Little was leading in the GOP primary with 62.8% of the votes.

Ed Humphreys received the third-most votes, with 11%. 

McGeachin, backed by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, hoped to play spoiler, as she becomes the second lieutenant governor since 1932 to challenge a sitting governor.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Little focused on criticisms of Democrats and President Joe Biden. He appeared to address voters who didn’t cast their ballots for him, and said election night always leaves some feeling “dissatisfied.”

“We need to keep our eye on the prize, on the bigger picture, to make sure that Republican ideals of capitalism, limited government, family freedom continue to dominate for many years to come,”

Little is a rancher from Emmett who rose through the ranks of Idaho politics, from state senator, to lieutenant governor, to governor. He touts slashing regulations, boosting education funding and cutting taxes among his first-term accomplishments. But the majority of his tenure has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s been the main point of attack for McGeachin and her allies, who criticized Little for closing businesses and limiting gatherings while choosing not to regulate private businesses’ vaccine and mask mandates.

On the Democratic side, only one candidate appeared on the ballot: Stephen Heidt, a grant manager from Marsing. Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad ran as a write-in candidate along with David Reilly, a conservative from North Idaho who hoped to invade the Democratic Party and move it right.

Two Libertarians, John Dionne Jr. and Paul Sand, are running for their party’s nomination.

Six other Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination. They included Humphreys, a financial advisor from Eagle who hoped to abolish income taxes and expand alternatives to public schools, and Steve Bradshaw, a North Idaho pastor and county commissioner who has criticized Little for increasing spending amid a state tax revenue surplus.

Also running on the Republican ticket are Ben Cannady, Ashley Jackson, Lisa Marie and Cody Usabel. Governors serve four-year terms.

In statewide races, more traditional Republicans beat back their right-wing opponents in the races for state schools superintendent, secretary of state and lieutenant governor. 

Idaho’s five-term Republican attorney general, Lawrence Wasden, appears to have lost is bid for re-election to former Congressman Raul Labrador. 

Labrador, a favorite of the Tea Party during his eight years in the U.S. House, lost to now-Gov. Brad Little in the 2018 Republican primary. The attorney general post could be a stepping stone for another gubernatorial run in 2026.

Wasden, a former prosecutor, had the endorsements of Little and former Republican Govs. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Dirk Kempthorne and Phil Batt, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and former Republican Attorney General and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones. He’s also endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

During his tenure, he had not been shy about telling tells lawmakers when he believes proposed laws would likely be struck down by courts, irritating members of his party. They created a Legislative Legal Defense Fund to hire their own attorneys that, critics say, tell lawmakers what they want to hear. The fund, controlled by House and Senates leaders, has spent millions.

“You can choose an attorney general that follows the law or one that thinks he’s a congressional activist or a policymaker,” Wasden said during a debate with Labrador and Macomber last month.

Labrador is upfront in telling conservative lawmakers they’ll have a partner with him in the attorney general’s office.

“This job is not just a legal job, it’s a political job,” Labrador said in the same debate. “I would just be a lot more aggressive.”

The GOP primary winner will face Steve Scanlin in November, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. But the Republican primary winner is expected to easily win the general election in the deep-red state.