Opinion | Politics

Mark Trahant: Native vote could tip races in Idaho and Colorado

Could a Democrat steal a win in Idaho? If enough people vote for independent and Tea Party candidates, then, well, yes. A.J. Balukoff, right, is challenging Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Here he is shown with Bert Marley, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel. Photo from Facebook

There are two narratives that I think will define this election. First, there is the rise of the viable independents, candidates in Alaska, Kansas and South Dakota (more on that down the road). And, second the way this race is so close — even where it should not be.

My home state of Idaho is a case in point. Idaho may be the most Republican state in the country. There is no Democrat currently holding a statewide office. (I once wrote a piece asking the Secretary of Interior to list Idaho Democrats as an Endangered Species so there would be some built in protection.)

Nonetheless this year Idaho is close. This is remarkable. In a year when all Republicans think they have to do is to say nasty things about the president, the voters are saying something else. Idaho Governor “Butch Otter is one of the least popular governors in the country,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “But there may not be a state where it’s harder for Democrats to win than Idaho.”

True, that.

Here are the numbers: PPP final polls shows incumbent Butch Otter leads with only 39 percent to 35 percent for Democrat A.J. Balukoff. Minor candidates combine for an unusually high 12 percent, and 14 percent of voters are undecided. There are six candidates on the ballot (including Marvin "Pro-Life" Richardson.) Many Tea Party voters dismiss Republicans as too liberal. Idaho Republicans at that.

So if Idaho’s conservative voters go for one of those minor parties — there is a chance that the Democrat could win (without earning fifty percent of the vote).

Idaho’s five tribes are small in numbers, roughly one percent of the state, so in a close election, you just never know.

It’s more likely that voters will break for the Republican as they normally do in Idaho. But, hey, anything can happen. Real Clear Politics still rates this race as “safe” for the GOP.

Another state where a minor party candidate could shake things up is Colorado.

Democratic Senator Mark Udall is trailing Republican challenger Cory Gardner in several polls. However what’s interesting is how that lead shrinks when independent candidate Steve Shogan is included who’s polling as much as 8 percent in some polls. This is the opposite of Kansas. If the conservative candidate splits the votes of Republicans, it could be enough for a Udall win.

Colorado’s American Indian and Alaska Native population is slightly more than the national average, at 1.6 percent.

Another factor that could make Colorado interesting is mail-in ballots. This will be the first election where most voters will receive a ballot in the mail — so the outcome will depend on which voters are more likely to return the ballot. (Folks can vote in person if they so choose.)

Both Idaho and Colorado allow citizens to register up until Election Day. It could not be any easier to cast a ballot.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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