By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
Let’s not kid ourselves. On Tuesday night, all eyes will be on the presidential race. (Ours will be, too — as viewers, not as reporters.)
But as you’re waiting for those results, don’t forget Idaho’s legislative and congressional races. Throughout the evening and the next morning, the Idaho Reports team will bring you live updates on the Gem State elections.
We’re highlighting the races listed below, but we’re keeping an eye on all 35 legislative districts. There are surprises every election cycle, and that may be especially true Tuesday night with the flood of absentee voters and new registrations this year.
With that in mind, here are four key legislative races we’re watching. And be sure to follow Idaho Reports on Facebook and Twitter, and producer Devon Downey, production assistant Logan Finney, and myself on Twitter. We’ll post updates on social media and the blog on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
All three seats in this district have both Republicans and Democrats running. (That isn’t the case everywhere this year — in District 6, which had two Democratic representatives just five years ago, not a single Democrat is running for House or Senate). The Senate race is a rematch from last cycle, with Republican former senator Dan Foreman challenging Democrat Sen. David Nelson.
Democrat Dulce Kersting Lark and Republican Brandon Mitchell are running for the open House Seat A, and Democrat Renee Love is challenging Republican Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, who was first elected in 2012.
These races are often close, and have flipped between Republicans and Democrats in recent years. In 2018, Republican Bill Goesling beat Democrat Margie Gannon 51 to 49 percent — just 397 votes. (Foreman, a controversial one-term senator, lost to Nelson by a wider margin.)
Since 2012’s redistricting, 15 has slowly turned from red to purple, and is currently the Treasure Valley’s only district with split representation. Republican Sen. Fred Martin faces Democratic challenger Rick Just, while former Rep. Patrick McDonald is challenging Democratic Rep. Steve Berch. McDonald lost to Democrat Jake Ellis two years ago; Ellis now faces Republican Codi Galloway.
Even though Democrats ousted Republican incumbents two years ago, the races were close; Martin won with just six votes, and Ellis beat McDonald by 320. (Devon Downey has a more in-depth look at why there aren’t more competitive legislative races in Treasure Valley.)
This district, which covers Blaine, Gooding, Lincoln and Camas, is always interesting. From redistricting until 2018, it had split representation. Two years ago, Muffy Davis beat then-Rep. Steve Miller by a decent margin — more than 2,000 votes — making it one of two districts outside Boise currently represented by all Democrats.
Sen. Michelle Stennett is a popular incumbent, but she faces a high profile challenge from Eric Parker, founder of the Real 3 Percent of Idaho. Parker faced federal charges for his role in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada, and his run has sparked national media attention. Davis is unchallenged, while Rep. Sally Toone faces a challenge from Republican Bill Thorpe of Bliss.
Democrats in 26 won comfortably last cycle, but this district’s recent history and the attention Parker is bringing to the race, I’ll be keeping an eye on the results as they come in.
This district, which encompasses Pocatello in Bannock County, was a Democratic stronghold until 2016, when Republican Dustin Manwaring won an open House seat by 725 votes. That year, Sen. Mark Nye won the race for another open seat by an even slimmer margin, with 536 votes. Last cycle, Democrat Chris Abernathy beat Manwaring with just 337 votes.
Manwaring is back this year, trying to win House Seat A in a rematch with Rep. Abernathy. Neither the Senate race nor House Seat B have Republican candidates, meaning Nye and James Ruchti will be sworn in for the 2021 session. (Considering how close these races have been in recent cycles, I’m surprised the Republicans didn’t offer up contenders this year, especially since House Seat B was open following Rep. Elaine Smith’s retirement.)