Polls closed in Idaho Tuesday evening, as voters settled contentious party primary elections.

Early results were expected shortly after 9 p.m. MDT, or 8 p.m. PDT. Voting continued in North Idaho until 8 p.m. PDT.

However, it could be hours before results come clear, especially in statewide races.

Tuesday’s vote brought to an end an often-bitter battle within the Republican Party. Across the state and up and down the ticket, mainstream Republicans and hardline conservatives sought to seize control of the state’s prevailing political party.

Nominees will appear on the general election ballot in November.

A contentious governor’s primary concludes

The animosity between Republican incumbent Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin began to escalate well before May 2021, when McGeachin announced her gubernatorial bid. From the spring of 2020, McGeachin sharply criticized Little’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and in 2021, she twice tried to use her authority as acting governor to issue executive orders banning mask mandates or vaccine requirements.

In 2021, McGeachin assembled a task force to root out indoctrination in schools. The group met through the summer but did not produce any concrete policy.

The Democratic primary has been turbulent as well. Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad launched a write-in bid after failing to change his party affiliation before filing campaign paperwork. David Reilly also filed as a write-in; last fall, Reilly ran a failed campaign for Post Falls School Board, with local Republican backing, drawing national attention for a history of anti-Semitic tweets. Stephen Heidt of Marsing, a teacher, was the only Democrat on Tuesday’s ballot.

The secretary of state’s office said it would not release write-in numbers in the governor’s primary Tuesday night, Clark Corbin of the Idaho Capital Sun reported.

Ideological divides define other statewide primaries

The rest of Idaho’s statewide primaries also split along GOP fault lines:

  • In the race for state schools superintendent, two-term incumbent Sherri Ybarra sought to defend her eight-year record, saying national rankings, test scores and graduation rates all showed signs of improvement. She faced two primary challengers: former State Board of Education president Debbie Critchfield, who pledged to bring a more focused direction to K-12; and Branden Durst, a former Democratic legislator running a hardline conservative race centered on school choice and parental rights. (More on this race from Idaho EdNews’ Devin Bodkin.)
  • In the race to succeed McGeachin as lieutenant governor, House Speaker Scott Bedke and hardline state Rep. Priscilla Giddings headed a bitter and personal GOP primary. Under Bedke’s watch, the House censured Giddings in November, after she posted an article naming “Jane Doe,” the former House intern who accused former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape. (Von Ehlinger was later convicted.)
  • Twenty-year incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden faced two conservative challengers: former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Coeur d’Alene attorney Art Macomber. The attorney general provides legal guidance to state agencies and lawmakers, on topics including education. Like the governor and the state superintendent, the attorney general also sits on the state Land Board, which oversees Idaho endowment lands.
  • Three Republicans ran in an open race for secretary of state: Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, state Sen. Mary Souza and state Rep. Dorothy Moon. The secretary of state oversees Idaho elections — and in debates, but Souza and Moon questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. The secretary of state also sits on the Land Board.

Primaries promise even more legislative turnover

Even before Tuesday’s elections, it was clear that the 2023 Legislature woul look very different from the 2022 model.

Newcomers will fill at least three dozen of the Legislature’s 105 seats — partly because of a spate of high-profile retirements in both parties, and partly because the state’s remapping thrust several incumbent lawmakers in the same legislative district.

Tuesday’s elections could bring even more turnover:

  • Several moderate lawmakers faced strong opposition from the right. That list includes Sens. Jim Woodward of Sagle and Carl Crabtree of Grangeville, who sit on both the Senate Education Committee and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
  • By the same token, a number of hardline conservatives faced tough challenges from moderates. Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg, a JFAC member, faced a rematch with former Rep. Britt Raybould. Reps. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls and Karey Hanks of St. Anthony also drew challenges from former lawmakers.
  • Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn of Emmett squared off with JFAC member C. Scott Grow of Eagle Tuesday, after redistricting placed both Senate Republicans in the same district. Other head-to-head matchups involved Sens. Abby Lee of Fruitland and Jim Rice of Caldwell; Reps. Judy Boyle of Midvale and Scott Syme of Wilder; and Reps. Greg Ferch of Boise and John Vander Woude of Meridian.

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television; and “Idaho Matters” on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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