Election Central

Otter voices concern about closed primary’s impact on his re-election

Gov. Butch Otter said his campaign is taking steps to boost voter turnout as he faces his first closed Republican primary after winning 11 of 12 open contests in a political career spanning 42 years.

“On May 20 when you go in (to the polling place), they’re going to have a piece of paper there that says, ‘I am a Republican,’” Otter told a sympathetic audience of Farmers Insurance agents at the Capitol Thursday. “Well, there are a lot of folks that may not want to sign that.”

He added: “When I think about how many people have been disenfranchised — which was maybe, I’m sure was an unintended consequence. Every state employee is supposed to be nonpartisan…Now when you sign this piece of paper it says that ‘I am a Republican’ and it’s the only way you can get a Republican ballot.”

“I didn’t think it was a good idea to do that. (Secretary of State) Ben Ysursa — there were a lot of folks that didn’t think it was a good idea. But that’s what the party wanted to do and that’s what the Central Committee of the Republican Party voted for, so that’s what we do.”

Otter said his campaign will supply supporters with timelines to prepare for the primary. “I think there’s going to be a lot of people that just don’t want to sign that piece of paper and pledge that they are a Republican, but anyway, when we get the calendar put together there’s certain things you’re going to have to do at certain times.”

Of Idaho’s 742,000 registered voters, 59 percent, about 440,000, remain unaffiliated after the first closed primary was held in 2012. If they wish to vote to re-nominate Otter for a third term in the Idaho GOP primary or back his challenger, Sen. Russ Fulcher, those voters will have to declare themselves Republicans.

About 241,000 voters, or 33 percent, are already registered GOP. That largest group — the unaffiliated — may make their declaration on Election Day. But any of the 57,000 registered Democrats, 3,400 Libertarians and 1,700 members of the Constitution Party wanting to vote in the GOP primary must register as Republicans with their county clerks by March 14.

Otter made his remarks about his first closed primary after being asked by a Farmers agent, “What can we do to support you?”

“Well, thank you for that,” Otter began. “You folks have been stellar. You’ve worked on my campaign, you’ve worn the bumper stickers, you’ve put the yard signs in the yard and you’ve contributed not only with your time and your talent, but with your treasure. And I appreciate it. All I can say is let’s continue to do more of that.”

Otter is facing his first closed primary after a political career dating to 1972. He has been a candidate in open GOP primaries in 1972 and 1974 for the Legislature; 1978 for governor; 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998 for lieutenant governor; 2000, 2002 and 2004 for Congress; and 2006 and 2010 for governor. He won all but one of those races — the exception being 1978 — and was subsequently the victor in the general election.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics