For the sake of argument, let’s just say that Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin knows exactly what she’s doing.
To the untrained eye, it looks as if leading an inquisition against Idaho schools because they’re supposedly indoctrinating impressionable youngsters with “critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism” would turn a lot of people off.
So, you might think, would be thumbing her nose at the notion of conducting the public’s business in public — and then billing the taxpayers to cover her legal bills when a judge called her on it.
Undermining even the most modest steps toward containing Idaho’s raging COVID-19 pandemic as acting governor while Gov. Brad Little is out of state made a lot of Idahoans cringe — especially when they heard Stephen Colbert and John Oliver use their home as a punch line.
But in her battle to claim the GOP gubernatorial nomination over Little in next spring’s Republican primary, McGeachin is betting her antics play to a far-right base that has been energized during this era of Donald Trump.
It’s that base that votes in the closed Republican primary election.
“What worries mainstream Republicans is McGeachin’s popularity with the extreme right,” wrote Keith Ridler of the Associated Press.
Neither Little nor McGeachin can claim overwhelming popularity within the primary electorate.
Last time out, each won a narrow victory.
In his three-way contest in 2018 against former Congressman Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist, Little squeezed out a 37.3 percent win.
Among a five-way split for lieutenant governor, McGeachin won with a 28.9 percent plurality.
And a field of more than a half-dozen competitors, including insurrectionist Ammon Bundy and Idaho GOP regional Chairman Ed Humphreys, could split the vote into even thinner slices. Anything can happen.
Should McGeachin win the GOP nomination, she would become Idaho’s next governor by default — unless the state’s beleaguered Democratic Party seizes what would be not only a historic opportunity but an obligation to provide voters with an alternative.
What’s happening on that front?
The only announced Democratic candidate is Melissa Sue Robinson, a transgender woman and advocate, who ran unsuccessfully three times for mayor of Nampa and once for the Idaho Senate.
Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad, a Lewiston native, is exploring a campaign and has filed preliminary paperwork with the Idaho secretary of state’s office. But he has made no formal announcement of his candidacy.
No one from the Democratic bench of local and legislative officials from the state’s population centers has emerged.
And it’s getting late. The general election is about a year away. The primary election is seven months off. And the legislative session, which kicks off the political season, opens in January.
You’ll get a file full of reasons explaining Democratic reticence.
The last Democrat to win the governor’s office was Cecil Andrus in 1990.
Since then, the GOP has moved from a majority party to a monopoly. It controls the congressional delegation, all of the statewide offices and about 80 percent of the legislative seats.
With few exceptions, the Democratic brand in Idaho is toxic.
Whoever runs next year will be tethered to President Joe Biden.
Idaho Democrats can expect scant financial support from the national party, which leaves them terribly outgunned by the well-stocked GOP arsenal.
Who would sign up for that — especially at a time when politics have become so polarized and so personal?
Nonetheless, McGeachin would present any Democrat with the best opportunity for an upset since Gov. Don Samuelson opened the door to Andrus in 1970. Her narrow base would leave a great deal of terrain — from the left to the center-right — for a Democrat to exploit.
Possessed of the right talent and timing, an outsider can win. Just ask former Sen. and Congressman Steve Symms.
And there are signs that the kind of Idaho voter who shows up in November is getting tired of the chaos — whether it meant tossing out the punitive anti-teacher Luna laws in 2012 or passing Medicaid expansion over the Legislature’s fierce objection six years later.
If a political party does nothing else, it has a duty to recruit and promote candidates who then give voters a choice.
But to do that, Idaho Democrats need a pulse. — M.T.