In May’s Idaho Democratic gubernatorial primary, 38-year-old Paulette Jordan prevailed over A.J. Balukoff, a perennial Democratic candidate and two-time loser. Jordan is a Native American and member of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene tribe, who served as a two-term state legislator and supported Bernie Sanders in his 2016 presidential bid. Balukoff, 72, a businessman who formerly served on the Boise School District Board of Trustees, had a lot in common with Bernie (especially his race, gender, and age), but it seems to be the year for women-of-color in the rapidly pulling-to-the-left Democratic Party. Sorry, A.J.
We’re seeing this model play out again and again across the American political landscape this primary season. We will see more of it. The Democratic Party can’t free itself from the clutches of identity politics. And its ingrained Trump-hatred keeps it a prisoner of an inescapable conundrum. The “centrist” Democrat of, say, the Clinton ’90s, is now a dinosaur.
Jordan’s campaign website is full of the sort of liberal platitudes you might expect. She supports such boilerplate gems as “quality education, affordable healthcare, economic opportunity,” etc., and, of course, the standard lines concerning race, feminism, and LGBT issues. Paulette Jordan seems to suffer from Hillary Syndrome, in that she believes that her gender and ethnicity entitle her to be governor of Idaho. In an interview with the Nation she stated: “We are not afraid, and will never again stand down.”
In the recent Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary, African-American former Democratic Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives Stacey Abrams thumped former Georgia House Rep. Stacey Evans (“The Battle of the Staceys”), 76% to 24%. Abrams, a 2016 Bernie Sanders supporter, was endorsed by Sanders and the radical far-left Moveon.org. Abrams is banking on the Trump-hatred found among the upscale, well-educated liberals in the Atlanta suburbs to deliver future electoral success.
In Texas, Lupe Valdez, a Latina, lesbian, and Dallas County Sheriff, beat the centrist Democrat Mark White for the slot to take on Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in this fall’s gubernatorial contest. This despite Valdez’s financial woes, when as recently as June she paid off $12,000 in property taxes in arrears in two Texas counties.
And then there’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, due to her massive media profile, well, enough said.
All these contests have one thing in common. The farther left “progressive” candidate beat the centrist-moderate, sometimes by a wide margin (see Abrams’ Georgia win). All of these folks supported Bernie Sanders in his 2016 primary contest with Hillary Clinton. This highlights Sanders’ enduring credibility with the progressive Left, and his influence among Democratic candidates and the Democratic base in the upcoming November midterm elections.
In Idaho Republicans enjoy a three to one ratio in voter registration. Gem State voters have gone for the GOP presidential candidate in the last seven national contests. The past three governors have been Republicans. As is the current Congressional delegation (4). The May primary usually tells us who the next governor will be, whether it’s the Republican incumbent or the victor in a multi-candidate GOP primary for an open seat. This year that’s Brad Little, Idaho’s current lieutenant governor, who seeks to succeed his boss, Clement “Butch” Otter, the state’s sitting governor, retiring after three terms in office.
On the Democratic side, the gubernatorial nominee has been a sacrificial lamb for the past 23 years, since the late Cecil Andrus, a legendary Idaho political figure, occupied the governor’s office. This period in Idaho’s recent political history has seen hundreds of Democrats lose general election races on all levels across the state, from local municipal and county offices, to congressional and state legislature contests. Paulette Jordan faces an uphill climb, the political equivalent of scaling Mount Everest. She’s a “Feel the Bern” progressive running for the highest office in one of the reddest states in the Union.
That the Idaho Democratic Party would produce her as a gubernatorial candidate in the first place is interesting. The days of centrist Democrats such as Andrus (and another Idaho giant, the late Senator Frank Church) who could appeal to a cross-section of Idaho voters, many of whom worked in such blue-collar occupations as farming, ranching, logging, mining, and other employment related to the public lands, are gone. Then there is the cultural factor: A large percentage of Idaho voters are either evangelical Christians or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). In 2016 Donald Trump hammered Hillary Clinton 59% to 27% in Idaho (the remaining 13% going to down ballot presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin).
Jordan’s victory is illustrative of the progressive pull to the left of the Idaho Democratic Party. Despite the status of Idaho as a deep red state, the Democrats are no different in their policy positions than their national counterparts. For example, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 78% to 21.2 % in the March, 2016 Idaho Democratic caucus. Again, there are fewer of those Andrus-Church Democrats around nowadays.
But the Democrats have no specific vision that they can present to the American electorate. It’s all identity politics coupled with a loathing for Donald Trump that is so visceral and deeply ingrained that it’s become pathological. The Democrats strain our credulity as they attack any and all of his policies, no matter their merit (which are significant, considering the booming American economy and the Administration’s foreign policy stances), thus risking — so the argument goes — their prospects for prevailing in this year’s midterm elections. In the midterm of a president’s first term, history should be on their side, but, then again, it was on their side in 2016. Wasn’t it?
As for Paulette Jordan, the far left minority in Idaho that enthusiastically supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 won’t be enough to give her the keys to the governor’s office. Trump- hatred is not a campaign issue. Neither is identity politics.
Bill Croke is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.