Political Hay

The Sunshine Democrats

A very blue remnant in a very red state.

By 3.16.10

"The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country…." --Thomas Paine, "The Crisis" (1776)

I attended the Lemhi County Democratic Party Caucus at the Salmon Valley Business and Innovation Center here in Salmon as a freelance media observer the other night. Fourteen Democrats showed up. The low number surprised me, because I was told the last one in 2008 drew 127 people. That was during the Obama-Hillary Clinton death struggle for the Democratic nomination. So this year showed a roughly 90% drop in attendance. And I was the only reporter. The weekly Salmon Recorder-Herald ignored it, as did the woman who is the Salmon correspondent for the distant daily Idaho Falls Post-Register.

The Democratic Party in Idaho suffers the kind of minority status that could draw empathy from Republicans in states such as New York and Massachusetts. In the 2008 presidential contest John McCain trounced Barack Obama 61%-36%, almost exactly the reverse of their Massachusetts numbers (Obama 62%-36%). The Gem State was McCain's fourth best showing. Idaho's governor (C.L. "Butch" Otter) is a Republican. Three of the four members of the Congressional delegation (Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch, and my Congressman Mike Simpson) are Republicans. Congressman Walt Minnick, whose district covers the Boise area, is the sole Democrat, and after only one term is already on the endangered political species list this fall (he faces Republican Vaughn Ward in what many analysts view as a toss-up), having in 2008 squeaked by Republican Bill Sali with 1% of the vote (50.6%-49.4%). John McCain took Minnick's 1st Congressional District with 62% the same day. And the state legislature is dominated by Republicans. So given the national Democratic Party's declining fortunes this year, the puny caucus turnout in Salmon wasn't surprising.

The Dems had to select two delegates to send to the state convention in June. One woman was quickly nominated and seconded. The other took some time because no one else present was interested. First, a man volunteered to be an alternate; and finally a second man was pressed into delegate service.

Then some local city and county races were discussed as to whom the Democrats might put forward as candidates. Some names were tossed around, and except for one woman present, they were the familiar names of folks not present. In fact, one, a man interviewed on a local radio talk show boosting the caucus the previous day, wasn't there either because of a previous commitment. His message on the radio had been: "Come one, come all" -- but he himself was absent. This reminded me of Woody Allen's famous maxim: "80% of success is showing up." So don't look for record Democratic turnout in Idaho on Election Day.

In the exciting -- for Idaho Democrats -- 2008 election year, the state convention was held in Boise, which made sense in a presidential year because it's the state capital. Candidate Obama even dropped in to make a speech that February at Boise State University. The convention rotates every second year to a different small city or town large enough to accommodate it. This year it's slated for Worley, in northern Idaho. Worley is a small town on the Coeur D'Alene Indian Reservation, and the convention site is the Coeur D'Alene Casino Resort Hotel. I'll forego the political powwow jokes. But in our time of multi-trillion dollar deficits stretching far into the future, there's some irony attached to Idaho Democrats holding their state convention in a "gaming facility."

If the actual caucusing of the Lemhi County Dems had its funereal aspects, the convivial social hour beforehand with snack foods (I especially enjoyed the little pizza squares with melted provolone and spinach on top) and drinks and political-chat was interesting to me, as I was the only conservative in the room.

Confronted with the likely Democratic electoral Waterloo (Thermopylae?) forecast for this November, one bespectacled middle-aged woman told me that that was just fine, because: "If we lose the Congress, then the Republicans will screw it up again like they did under Bush, and Obama's popularity will again be enhanced in 2012." She then asked me if I'd heard of "The Daily Kos." "No", I said, and took out my notepad. "Please spell it." "It's Daily, K-O-S," she said, and continued: "If you really want to follow the national scene, you need to read The Daily Kos." It's been my experience that liberals in small towns in red states harbor more radical views in reaction to the political milieu around them. I also saw this when I lived in Wyoming. It's a stubborn, kneejerk far left idealism.

Another woman, younger, told me that she was appalled by Republican "obstruction" of the current healthcare bill in Congress. "The American people want the public option; they just don't understand," she said, conversely and testily. "Obama should forget the bipartisan thing and just do it; if he does, everybody will benefit." Yeah, especially the Republican Party, I thought.

As the social hour was ending and we slowly moved into a conference room for official business, I was chatting with a polite, gray-haired man who was curious about my presence, and I mentioned The American Spectator.

"The American Spectator?" he asked, thoughtfully. "Isn't that a publication of The John Birch Society?"

"Don't tell anybody," I said. 

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About the Author

Bill Croke, formerly of Cody, Wyoming, is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.