Can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? The New York Times (and so many others) have already answered that question with an almost certain, nope.
“In a state that Donald J. Trump won by more than 30 percentage points and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, the Republican primary is almost certainly where Mr. Otter’s successor will be chosen,” The Times said.
The Times is not alone. That’s the conventional wisdom. Idaho is, after all, one of the most Republican states in the country. There is not a single Democrat who has been elected to any statewide office in the past couple of decades. And a Native woman, a young woman at that? Nah. Case closed.
But Jordan is not a conventional candidate. And this is not a routine election year. And Idaho has a history of sharply reversing course (ok … you have to go back a century for that one).
Let’s look at the numbers. Nearly 195,000 voters picked a Republican in the primary election and only some 66,000 voted for any Democrat. That seems daunting at roughly 3 to 1. But it will be closer than that in the general election. A lot closer. Four years ago the margin was 15 percentage points, 54 percent for the Republican to 39 percent for the Democrat. So the issue is how to get from 39 percent to 50 percent, plus one. To do that Jordan will need to win over at least 70,000 voters.
The most important thing for Jordan to do, she’s already doing. And that is to make Idaho cool and smart. (This is where the national attention helps.) On election night the music of Drake singing “God’s Plan” filled the room. Later supporters posted a video of Jordan dancing. Cool.
“The video of her speech to supporters in the Boise bar is revealing,” writes Dean Miller. “That is a very savvy, very disciplined Gen X politician, singing along to hip-hop lyrics, greeting workers with attention, holding weirdos at arm's length with generous caution and immediately reaching out to all Idahoans. Her skills and instincts are top-notch.” Miller is the former editor of the Idaho Falls Post-Register and a longtime observer of politics in the Gem State.
Jordan also has the ideal message for the voters who are new to Idaho politics, especially those who have moved to Boise from other cities across the West. More than 75,000 people alone moved to Idaho last year (that includes families, but it’s still a huge number).
Idaho is increasingly a technology state. Consider this bit: “In one year Idaho saw a 44.9 percent increase in job postings related to emerging technologies, including the Internet of Things, smart cities, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality, and blockchain. “While these positions accounted for a small percentage of total tech job postings, it indicates where organizations are headed with the technology investments,” reported Cyberstates in 2018.
Idaho’s tech sector is already responsible for some $6.1 billion in the state’s economy, the report said. Tech’s impact on the Idaho economy ranks third behind manufacturing and government. (Bigger than agriculture.) There are some 51,900 tech workers in the state with an average wage of $87,740. (Compared to the state’s average annual private sector wage of $40,290.)
The tech world has no use for the old school -- and that includes politicians. It’s about inventing the future, not repeating routine slogans about social issues, border walls, or even extractive energy development.
This gives a reason for people who are Republicans to vote for a Democrat. Jordan speaks the language.
Jordan can also sell the technology industry to rural Idaho and Indian Country. Most of the technology jobs are in Boise. Jordan can make the case for creating jobs in northern Idaho, tribal communities, and telecommuting and other jobs that would work in rural Idaho.
Another reason why Jordan could be competitive is that she is exciting. People want to be around her. That is especially important for attracting new voters to the process. Four years ago less than 60 percent of the voting age population cast a ballot. The higher that number, the better Jordan’s chances.
This is challenging in a mid-term election. Idaho young people, like those across the country, are more likely to vote in a presidential election year. Two years ago the share of voters under 29 years of age was nearly 15 percent of the electorate. But four years ago, during the last governor’s election, the share of young voters was only 8.2 percent. Again, the higher the number, the better Jordan’s chances.
A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows a marked increase in the number of young Americans who indicate that they will 'definitely be voting' in the upcoming midterm elections.
“The big picture: 37 percent of Americans under 30 indicate that they will 'definitely be voting,' compared to 23 percent who said the same in 2014,” the study found. “Young Democrats are driving nearly all of the increase in enthusiasm; a majority (51 percent) report that they will 'definitely' vote in November, which represents a 9-percentage point increase since November 2017 and is significantly larger than the 36 percent of Republicans who say the same."
Indian Country is important in this regard too. Native American voters are only about one percent of the population, but among young voters, the number climbs to 3.3 percent. That might seem small, but it could be a good reflection of voter engagement.
Support from Indian Country is essential for Jordan to raise enough money. It’s how she gets her message out to voters. So far Jordan has collected more than $367,000 in contributions. Some of her largest contributors have been tribes, including her own, Coeur d’Alene, as well as other tribal nations in Idaho, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce and Kootenai. She also received support from tribes from across the country.
One potential pool of voters for Jordan is foreign-born citizens. A study by the Partnership for the New Economy said Idaho was home to almost 34,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote in 2014, including an estimated 14,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered.
“Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by roughly 208,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries,” the report said.
The challenge for Jordan is to reach these new groups and serve the core Democratic constituency. But that’s what election coalition building is all about. She has to make sure to reach union workers, make inroads into Mormon counties (most likely by finding strong surrogates who are LDS) and basically round up every Democrat, independent, and enough Republicans to put her over the top.
Once again, the higher the turnout number, the better Jordan’s chances. And there is a flip side to that idea: Republican turnout could be down across the country. If the country senses a landslide for the Democrats in the House, a lot of regular GOP voters might not show up. This is particularly acute in North Idaho because it’s on the Pacific time zone and TV viewers will have already seen the wave while they are still voting.
So can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? Yes there is a path. And now she can run against The New York Times who has already told her she can’t win. Conservatives will love that. Idaho has a history of defying the odds. Frank Church, a liberal Democrat, won a Senate seat when he was only 32 years old. And Democrat Cecil Andrus won the governor’s chair four different times. Church’s strength was his intellect. Andrus was a great storyteller. And Jordan owns cool.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports