Four years ago, the US was in a similar state of political activity. It was an election year, and some would argue that it was just as critical. George W. Bush was in the final year of his presidency and the political world was in turmoil as Republicans, Democrats and other parties raced to fill the impending void.
In 2008, the Democratic Party produced 10 presidential candidates including Senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. The Republican Party produced 12 candidates including Senator John McCain, former Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Ron Paul.
While the race in both parties was filled with tension and interest, only the Republican race relates to tonight’s first ever caucus in the state of Idaho. As the 2008 election year began, the field of contenders thinned out progressively with each state caucus or primary. By the time Super Tuesday rolled around, like this year, the Republican field had been whittled down to four candidates. Senator John McCain (AZ) was in the lead with former Governor Mike Huckabee (AR) close on his heels followed by former Governor Mitt Romney (MA) and Representative Ron Paul (TX).
Senator McCain won eight of the 21 states involved in Super Tuesday. Governor Huckabee won five states, and Governor Romney won seven states. But, Romney suspended his campaign two days later on February 7th and then endorsed Senator McCain.
At the time, Romney was the more Conservative candidate and so was favored by the Conservative base of the Republican party. He would have won Idaho too, but by Statute, Idaho’s primary is to be held “on the third Tuesday of May in each even-numbered year” (Idaho Code § 34-102). The late date of the primary has always prevented Idaho’s Republican Party from participating in Super Tuesday. Consequently, by the time Idaho’s primary took place, the nominee had already been selected thereby excluding Idaho’s voice in determining the Republican presidential nominee—one who may have been able to beat Barack Obama in the general election.
This situation has been aggravating for Idaho voters for many years. In an article concerning the first Idaho Straw Poll, the Idaho State Republican website, idgop.org states:
Over the summer the Idaho Republican State Central Committee, the governing body of the Idaho GOP, met in Moscow, Idaho and voted in support of a change to State Party Rules that will move Idaho’s presidential candidate selection to Super Tuesday and conduct the nominating process through a county by county caucus system. Idaho has 32 delegates at the 2012 Republican National Convention, which is more than Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada (http://idgop.org/ron-paul-wins-idaho-gop-straw-poll/).As a result, Idaho Republicans will caucus tonight for the candidate of their choice. However, because the date of the primary is set by Idaho law, it can only be changed by law. Therefore, the date and occurrence of Idaho’s primary remains on the third Tuesday of May, and Idahoans will vote in the primary for state and local offices as well as any referenda or other ballot initiatives.
Additionally, according to Idaho Republican National Committeeman Damon Watkins it costs $800,000 to setup and run a primary election in the state of Idaho. Suddenly, changing the date of the primary becomes a greater obstacle. In order to change the primary from May to March or February, it would not only cost $800,000 to make the change, it would also require new legislation amending existing Idaho code.
While holding a caucus does not change Idaho’s Primary election date, it does change when the presidential nominee selection occurs. It is a critical event too. With the caucus, Idahoans will be able to have an active role in selecting the Republican presidential nominee.
“Idaho has more delegates than Arizona who just gave all of their delegates to Mitt Romney,” said Watkins at the Rally for Mitt Romney held at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls Thursday, March 1st, 2012. Idaho actually has 32 delegates where Arizona has 29, and yes, it matters.
In years gone by, “The Primary Election determines the allocation of 24 of Idaho’s 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Of the 32 delegates to the National Convention, 24 delegates are counted as ‘soft pledged’ and may change their votes if they desire. The remaining 8 delegates are ‘unpledged,’ who may vote for any viable candidate they wish at the convention” (Caucus FAQs, 2011). In other words, under the primary system, the delegates could have voted for any candidate regardless of the popular vote. (It is neither very democratic (rule by many) nor republican (rule by representation), but that’s the way it was.)
March 6th, however, history changed. The “Caucus will result in 32 pledged delegates to the Republican National Convention, allocated according to the County Caucus voting” (Caucus FAQs, 2011). According to the Rules for the Selection of Delegates to the Republican National Convention and the Republican State Convention, “The Idaho Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus is not winner-take-all; accordingly the [Republican National Committee] allows Idaho an early caucus opportunity (typically in February or March)” (Rules, 2011). This means that Idaho’s delegation to the convention may or may not be divided among the four presidential candidates but that the delegates themselves will have to support the candidate for whom each was selected.
“Madison High School [was] the site for all voters in Madison County” wrote Madison County Republican Committee Chair Elaine King in an email. “Everyone will enter the Commons Area of the school and SIGN IN and receive a ballot.” To access the commons area of the school, simply enter the main doors of the high school.
King also noted, “Those who still need to register or declare a party will be directed to separate tables.” Only registered Republicans are permitted to participate in the caucus, so the high school doors will open at 5:00 p.m. for anyone who would like to participate but has yet to register and/or declare their party affiliation.
King reiterated state and county GOP website information saying: “All voters will need to be in their seats in the gym before 7 P.M. when the voting/meeting begins.”
Like any other meeting the caucus will follow an agenda:
- The National Anthem
- Party business
- Candidate representative speeches (2-3 minutes each) will take place before directions are given on the voting process.
- Then the voting cans will be passed row by row. Cans will be collected and taken to the counting booth.
- Prizes will be given away during the counting process. Results will be posted on a screen in the gym.
Idaho has already seen one of the effects of changing to a caucus. All four Republican presidential candidates have visited the state. Mitt Romney’s rally last Thursday has already been mentioned, but Ron Paul held a town hall meeting last night at the Civic Auditorium. Newt Gingrich held a town hall meeting in Coeur D’Alene last month, and Rick Santorum attended a gathering at Capital High School in Boise. Just like that, Idaho is on the political map.
Hopefully, in years to come election coverage will include Idaho as a key state for anyone vying for the office of President. But, in order for that to happen, Idahoans must participate, and that means being informed and caucusing for not only the candidate who can win, but the right one—the one who will uphold the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and individual Liberty. Participate, or don’t bellyache.
The caucus started a little later than 7:00 because so many people turned out for it that had not registered. Even after they closed the doors, the high school gym was filled to capacity such that many people sat on the gym floor for the proceedings.