One GOP Primary, Two Surprises

Raul Labrador beat the candidate the national GOP had favored in Idaho’s Congressional primary. Endorsed by the Tea Party, Labrador ran strongest in the most metro parts of the district.


The much-discussed anti-incumbent, anti-establishment mood that’s infiltrated ballot boxes across the nation arrived in Idaho on Tuesday. Republican voters in Idaho’s first congressional district rejected the national Republican Party’s favored candidate, Vaughn Ward, in favor of state Rep. Raul Labrador. Labrador will go on to face freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick in the November general election.

Labrador’s win was another setback for national Republicans, who backed Iraq War veteran Ward early on in the primary. The National Republican Congressional Committee saw Ward as such a promising candidate that party leaders featured him in their “Young Guns” program, “designed to assist Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives build a foundation for victory.”

Labrador, on the other hand, went forward without institutional support, and instead won the endorsement of a local tea party organization, Tea Party Boise.

“Labrador clearly has more experience and more consistent alignment with the positions taken by TPB and our membership,” the group wrote in its endorsement. “He is also a strong, consistent conservative, willing to challenge his own party in Idaho on issues that we share.”

documented in Kentucky’s May 18 Republican primary, where Tea Party favorite Rand Paul defeated establishment candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Tea Party, anti-establishment candidates are underperforming in rural areas where a conventional understanding of politics says they should be performing best.

However, some factors unique to the Labrador-Ward battle certainly contributed to Labrador’s upset and unexpected win. Ward himself committed several gaffes, such as referring to Puerto Rico as a country and plagiarizing a campaign speech from President Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The Tea Party movement was not united behind Labrador, either. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, originally from the district herself, endorsed and campaigned for Ward – but Palin’s celebrity status was both a gift and a curse.

“I’m not a fan of Sarah’s,” voter Janice Aagaard told the Idaho Statesman. “So once she hooked up with Ward and the fact he doesn’t have a permanent home here, I couldn’t vote for him.”

It is unclear if the conventional political wisdom has changed or if the unique factors in the Republican primary in Idaho’s first district account for what could be a trend in rural politics. But one thing is clear: Rural voters should not be taken for granted and dismissed as predictable – especially in Idaho’s first district, where Minnick won with only 51 percent of the vote in 2008.

Rural voters could make all the difference.