Endorsements, Nasty Ads, Undecideds and Swapping Parties 

"Based on what I'm hearing around the state, the undecideds are likely to be younger and likely to be more female."

The fact that there is little to no regular polling, at least publicly, has added an extra layer of drama to the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial races in the Tuesday, May 15, primary. Speak to any of the top political camps—businessman and physician Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Congressman Raul Labrador on the Republican side, and businessman A.J. Balukoff and former Idaho House Rep. Paulette Jordan in the Democratic race—and you'll hear nothing but confidence about their chances.

But the most recent poll conducted by Idaho Politics Weekly indicates that more than a third of respondents remain undecided.

"Based on what I'm hearing around the state, the undecideds are likely to be younger and likely to be more female," said Steve Taggart, veteran campaign manager and current contributor to Idaho Politics Weekly. "I also don't see undecideds bunched up in one portion of the state; they're fairly well-distributed geographically. The big question on May 15 will be who can pull in a significant share of those undecideds. How can they make those people's lives better? Quite frankly, I think that's the part that all the campaigns have struggled with so far."

One struggle for voters has been the slew of mudslinging television campaign ads that have aired in the race so far, particularly among GOP gubernatorial candidates.

"There's a very interesting dynamic with such vitriolic attack ads, especially when there are three candidates," said Taggart. "We keep seeing one of the candidates attacking the other two. But there's a real danger of turning a lot of people off with all those attacks. And those undecideds may not land with the candidate who has been doing the most attacking."

Taggart says the Ahlquist, Little and Labrador campaigns are very insistent on how they brand themselves.

"Brad Little argues that he wants to go beyond the legacy of Gov. [C.L. 'Butch'] Otter, but in large part, Little wants to keep us on the same direction where we've been. Tommy Ahlquist insists we have to make change. And Raul Labrador sees the whole system as being corrupt. Those are the three niches," said Taggart. "And they're really pushing their messages hard in the homestretch. Raul Labrador's television ads have started popping up. Of course, Tommy Ahlquist's TV ads have been running since last summer and Brad Little is ramping up his airtime in a significant way. I think Little may be matching Ahlquist. Some people argue that Little is buying even more airtime."

One of Little's TV ads features a ringing endorsement from Otter, who will step aside from the Idaho Statehouse after serving 12 years as governor.

"Otter's endorsement is a major net-positive for Brad Little. The Governor has solid numbers among Republicans and that Republican base is still there. Yes, there are some ultra-conservatives who don't like Butch Otter, but they're small in number," said Taggart.

More difficult to gauge in the upcoming primary will be an under-the-radar effort of so-called "party swapping"—the term for when voters registered with one party re-register with another in order to influence the vote, particularly in primary elections. The deadline was March 9 for anyone who had been previously registered with another party to change their affiliation, but Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane confirmed plenty of party swapping has happened, with many shifting to the Idaho Republican Party, which restricts participation in its primary to Republicans only.

"Eight hundred forty-five Ada County Democrats officially switched to the Republican party before the deadline. Ten Libertarians, six Constitutionalists and 1,100 unaffiliated people also became Republicans. They'll all be eligible to participate in the Republican primary," said McGrane. "Interestingly enough, we had 54 Republicans switch to the Democrat Party and 225 unaffiliated people switch to become Democrats."

McGrane said the party swapping trend wasn't as big as some had claimed.

"It doesn't tip the scales too much," he added.

That said, in such a hotly-contested gubernatorial race, it seems nearly all bets are off.

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