The Idaho Republican Party is either one of the shrewdest political operations in the nation or it's incredibly lucky--maybe a little of both.
When Gem State GOP top brass announced they would close the party's primary system to only those registered as a Republican, the move was considered politically risky given that hundreds of thousands of Idahoans who, while considering themselves conservatives, had, for the most part, not formally tagged themselves as Republicans.
But then something unexpected happened--a raucous, drawn-out competition for the Republican Party's top prize: its presidential nomination.
Because there is still no clear frontrunner, all of the top Republican presidential contenders have brought their efforts to the state, looking to win precious delegates in the totally up-for-grabs Super Tuesday Idaho GOP Caucuses. Because of the robust interest in the crazy quilt that is the presidential contest, tens of thousands of Idahoans are expected to participate in the Tuesday, March 6, event. And therein lies the bonanza.
"This is playing out to be pretty much the perfect-case scenario," said Jonathan Parker, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party. "There is no down side to this."
According to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, as many as 750,000 Idaho voters weren't registered with any political party in 2011.
But to participate in the Super Tuesday Caucus and/or the Tuesday, May 15, GOP closed primary, right-leaning Idahoans will have to formally declare their allegiance to the Grand Old Party.
"I get calls every day from people saying, 'I'm a registered Republican.' Well, they're not," said Parker. "They think that simply because they voted in a dozen or so previous GOP primaries, and they were handed Republican ballots, they're a registered Republican. They actually weren't."
Parker confirmed that his party's internal polling indicated that the majority of Idahoans might consider themselves conservatives.
"But for whatever reason, they have wanted to stay as independents," he said.
But they can't remain "independent" if they want to vote on Super Tuesday for Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or even Buddy Roemer (see sidebar).
"When we used to hold our presidential contests in May, it was too late in the game. Idaho was a fly over state for way too long. Candidates would come here to raise some money and then leave without campaigning for our votes or delegates," said Parker. "When we decided to go with a caucus and join the Super Tuesday group, it was a gamble, but that's playing out very well for us right now."
In fact, the timing couldn't be better. The Super Tuesday caucus is a scant three days before a Friday, March 9, deadline, which requires Idahoans to declare party allegiance if they want to vote in the Tuesday, May 15, closed-party primary, which will be chock-full of candidates running for the Idaho Legislature.
Running a Caucus
Each of Idaho's 44 counties will run their own caucuses. Because of rural challenges, some counties like Bannock, Bear Lake, Bonner and Elmore may run more than one caucus location so participants won't have to drive extended distances.
Closer to home, Ada County Republicans will gather in Boise State's Taco Bell Arena; the Idaho Center will host Canyon County's event; Blaine County will have Republicans gather in the Hailey Elementary School gym and Valley County will hold its caucus in Cascade Elementary School (see a complete list at boiseweekly.com).