BOISE – Mainstream Republicans in Idaho beat back efforts by 2020 election deniers to retain control of the party in Tuesday’s primary election, chalking up wins in the contested governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state races.
A growing rift within the Idaho Republican Party set the stage for a tense primary night as challengers further to the right sought to oust candidates they did not view as conservative enough.
Gov. Brad Little defeated Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, by 20 percentage points.
“I’m looking forward, I’m not looking back,” Little said when asked about McGeachin campaigning against him.
McGeachin made national headlines by actively working against Little, including issuing an order banning public schools from mandating COVID-19 testing or vaccines and attempting to deploy the state’s National Guard troops to the U.S. southern border while Little was traveling out of state.
“It’s never been about the office, it’s never been about what’s good for Idaho,” Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said about McGeachin in an interview. “From Day 1, it’s been about her undermining the governor and running in her own right.”
Bedke, who ran for lieutenant governor with Little’s endorsement, will succeed McGeachin after coming out 9 points ahead of firebrand conservative state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, who was censured after sharing an article that identified a 19-year-old legislative intern who accused a former state House Republican of rape.
During a Republican “Unity Rally” Wednesday on the state Capitol’s steps, Bedke acknowledged “the excellent campaign” Giddings ran and said “the campaign against the Democrats starts today.”
Bedke on Tuesday said the tension seen between Little and McGeachin will not be repeated in the coming term.
“Idahoans want their No. 1 and No. 2 to work together,” he said. “They do not want to be embarrassed nationally, and you have my pledge that we will work together.”
Another Little-endorsed candidate, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, narrowly clinched the secretary of state race with a winning plurality of 43%. McGrane was the only GOP candidate of the three to publicly state that President Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency in 2020 – meaning the majority of Idaho Republicans voted for either state Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, or state Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, both of whom embraced false claims of widespread voter fraud.
McGrane, however, does not think the results are reflective of Idaho Republicans’ thoughts on the 2020 election.
“The average person doesn’t know what a secretary of state is or what they do,” McGrane said Wednesday, adding that he thinks “a lot more of the results are a reflection of that collective effort just to get our names out there in front of people.”
McGrane said he is looking forward to spearheading voter education initiatives such as providing voter information guides, increasing confidence in Idaho’s election security while working to enhance its cybersecurity safeguards and bolstering turnout.
While McGrane pulled off a win, another race that featured the legitimacy of the 2020 election as a common wedge issue culminated in the Little-backed candidate losing.
Lawrence Wasden’s nearly 20-year career as the state’s attorney general will come to an end after he was defeated by former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador by a roughly 14-point margin.
Wasden came under fire for declining to join Texas’ lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s handling of the 2020 election – something Labrador said he would have done.
Labrador, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus who lost a gubernatorial bid to Little in 2018, received a range of endorsements, including from 33 members of the state Legislature, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
“I know this was a big decision moving on from a 20-year incumbent, I appreciate your trust and your support,” Labrador said at the Wednesday rally and thanked Wasden for his service. “In November, the citizens of Idaho will have an opportunity to ratify the choice tonight and we need to be together as a united team no matter who you voted for in this primary.”
A second incumbent Republican elected statewide also lost in Tuesday’s primary. Sherri Ybarra, who was running for a third term, lost to Debbie Critchfield, former president of the Idaho State Board of Education.
Tuesday’s results marked not just an ideological divide, but a geographical one as well, with most northern counties favoring statewide candidates not backed by Little.
Take Kootenai County for example, where Moon and McGeachin both came out on top with 55% of the vote and Giddings received 63%. Or Bonner County, which saw similar margins as Kootenai – McGeachin with 52%, Giddings with 62% and Moon with 60%.
McGrane said that in hindsight he wishes he spent more of his campaign in North Idaho and added that increasing engagement with northern voters is important for every candidate to ensure “that anybody here elected serves the entire state from up to the Canadian border all the way down to Utah.”
Little will be heavily favored in the November election against Democrat Stephen Heidt, a teacher from Marsing. If Little secures a second term, the Legislature he will be working with likely will change significantly, as 11 incumbents lost re-election, including state Rep. Chad Christensen, a member of the anti-government Oath Keepers militia. As of Wednesday afternoon, an additional four incumbents are trailing behind.
Little said Tuesday he hopes in his next term to improve investments in education, transportation and increase tax relief, but first has to “figure out who [his] team is, both the constitutional officers and the Legislature.”
Following the fairly divisive primary election, Republican leaders underscored the need to unite as a party ahead of the November general election.
“We need to view the disagreement as a strength, and not something to overcome,” Little said in his victory speech. “It means our party is attracting a broad range of people. But now is a time to band together, to get back to focusing on what we agree as Republicans.”