Voters in Idaho Tuesday will decide their party's candidates for the November election, thinning a six-Republican field for the state's open congressional seat and likely sending heavily favored GOP Republican Congressman C.L. "Butch" Otter on his way toward the governor's mansion.
Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. statewide. The southern counties in the Mountain Time zone will not release primary election results until polls close in the 10 northern counties in the Pacific Time Zone, which will be at 9 p.m. MDT.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa expects turnout to be as low as 27 percent of the approximately 64,500 registered voters in the state, or about 17,415 voters, mirroring the 2004 primary. Primary turnout in Idaho rarely exceeds more than a third of registered voters and preliminary activity in absentee voting at the offices of clerks in Idaho's 44 counties indicated low interest in the election.
Same-day registration is available at polling sites. Idahoans do not register by party affiliation, but once in the polling booth, voters in the primary must choose either all Democrat or all Republican candidates.
The race generating the most interest is to replace Otter, who is resigning the 1st Congressional District seat he was elected to in 2000 to run for governor. The 1st District covers the 500-mile length of Idaho's western half, while the state's only other congressional district covers the eastern flank. Second District incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has no Republican opponent in the primary. He'll face unopposed Democrat Jim Hansen in the November general election.
There is no clear front-runner in the six-way GOP primary for Otter's congressional seat, although the fundraising leader, state Rep. Bill Sali of Kuna, has declared the battle is between himself and former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen of Boise.
Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez has attracted national attention and contributions to a campaign centered around cracking down on illegal immigration, while state Controller Keith Johnson of Boise picked up the endorsement of the state's largest daily newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, on Sunday. Also vying for the nomination are water users association head Norm Semanko of Eagle and state Sen. Skip Brandt of Kooskia.
The winner is expected to face Democrat Larry Grant of Fruitland, who is running against Cecil Kelly of Coeur d'Alene for the Democratic nomination.
Otter, who served as Idaho's lieutenant governor for 14 years before going to Congress, has raised $1.2 million in his campaign for governor and is expected to outdistance health care company owner Dan Adamson of Pocatello, anti-abortion hunger striker Walt Bayes of Wilder and former police officer Jack Johnson of Boise in the four-way GOP primary.
Democrat Jerry Brady, a newspaper executive, is making his second bid for governor against Lee Chaney Sr., a Preston welder. Brady received 42 percent of the vote in the 2002 general election against incumbent Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who awaits confirmation as U.S. interior secretary. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, a Republican, is Idaho's acting governor but is not running for the state's top office. Risch will face the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary between former Congressman Larry LaRocco and Dan Romero in the lieutenant governor's race.
There are contested primaries in both parties in the race to succeed Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard, the only Democrat serving in statewide office. State Rep. Steve Smylie of Boise is running against Tom Luna of Nampa and Steve Casey of Coeur d'Alene for the Republican nomination while Deputy Superintendent Jana Jones of Idaho Falls faces state Sen. Bert Marley of McCammon for the Democratic nod.
The Republican primary for state controller pits Royce Chigbrow, a certified public accountant, against former state legislator Donna Jones, while incumbent Republican Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is being challenged by Adams County Prosecutor Myron Dan Gabbert, who finished last four years ago.
All of Idaho's 105 state legislators stand for election every two years. Republicans control both chambers with a 28-7 margin in the Senate and a 57-13 advantage in the House. In state Senate, there are eight contested Republican primaries and one Democratic contest. In the House, there are 20 contested races, all among Republicans.