Though conservative challengers replaced Democrats throughout the nation on Tuesday night, those in Idaho's Democratic stronghold managed to retain control—narrowly.
The District 25 state Senate race was tight in much of the district, with none of the candidates receiving more than 50 percent of the vote in Gooding, Lincoln or Camas counties. Gooding voters favored Republican candidate and Sun Valley resident Jim Donoval, giving him his only positive margin over Democratic candidate and current Sen. Michelle Stennett in the entire district, beating her by more than 200 votes and carrying 49 percent of the county.
Stennett, of Ketchum, narrowly won in two more counties, with nearly 50 percent of Lincoln and Camas voters. Blaine County turned out in force to support one of its own, however, and handed Stennett 4,539 votes, or 68 percent.
That was enough to ensure Stennett would remain seated in the Senate position she was temporarily appointed to last week when Gov. Butch Otter chose her to replace her husband, longtime Sen. Clint Stennett, who died Oct. 14 after a long bout with brain cancer.
"I feel really pleased and grateful," Stennett said Wednesday.
She said she was surprised to have done so well outside of Blaine County, but that she was honored to be elected to fill the seat she's sat in since January 2010, when she first began filling in for her husband.
"It showed that we got our message out," she said, adding that she is thankful for the opportunity to serve another two years in the Legislature, though it won't be without its challenges.
"It's going to be a little bit more conservative, even in the Senate," Stennett said. "It'll be a different composition, [but] we'll work with what we have."
Throughout his campaign, Donoval had consistently stated that Constitution Party candidate Randall K. Patterson was likely to draw conservative votes and split the ticket.
While Donoval could have narrowly won in Lincoln and Camas had he received the votes Patterson snagged, he admitted Wednesday that he couldn't have won Blaine County.
"[Stennett] clearly won with over 50 percent of the vote," he said, adding that Patterson's participation was a "non-issue."
Patterson won 5 percent of the vote in Blaine County, 7 percent in Gooding, 10 percent in Lincoln and 8 percent in Camas. Patterson, the mayor of Carey, won the Carey precinct, as he had expected, with 45 percent of the vote. However, Donoval said he was encouraged that Stennett won the district by less of a margin than Clint Stennett had in his last contested election in 2002. While Clint won against Republican Tom Faulkner with 64 percent of the vote, Stennett received just under 58 percent of the vote in this year's election.
"I kind of laid the groundwork for running again in two years," Donoval said.
He said he hopes that by then his status as a relative newcomer will be less of an issue, and that the election won't be complicated as this one was by the death of a longtime senator.
"I wanted to run against a healthy Clint Stennett, not a mourning Michelle," he said of the race. "It was an interesting experience."
The District 25, Seat B state representative race was a fairly narrow one, with Republican candidate and Richfield resident Alex Sutter leading in results for much of the night. Sutter won the majority of votes over Democratic candidate and incumbent Donna Pence in all except Blaine County.
Camas gave Sutter 57 percent of the vote, and he gained 59 percent in Lincoln and 54 percent in Gooding, the home county of Pence.
However, his victories in the rest of the district couldn't make up for the 64 percent of the vote Pence won in Blaine County, the most populous of the four counties. Pence retained her seat by 1,200 votes, or just under 55 percent of the district.
Over half of Blaine County turned out to vote in the midterms, with a voter turnout rate of 56 percent. That number is far above the 16 percent who came out to vote in the Blaine Manor levy special election in August. Nearly 15 percent of Blaine County registrants voted absentee this year, and the tiny precinct of Yale, near Minidoka County, had the only 100 percent turnout rate in the county. All nine registered voters went to their polling spot.
District 25, Seat A Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, ran uncontested and will retain her House seat for another two-year term. Voters statewide elected to let Butch Otter retain his gubernatorial seat, and re-elected U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson by overwhelming margins.
Rep. Walt Minnick, the Democratic congressman for District 1, was the only one to lose his seat in the midterms. Republican Raul Labrador will replace him in January.
Idaho voters approved all four constitutional amendments on the ballot.
As a result, the University of Idaho will now be allowed to charge tuition as well as student fees. Also, public airports, public hospitals and cities that distribute electricity will now be allowed to incur debt for improvements without voter approval, so long as the debt will be repaid through revenue rather than tax dollars.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com
McCleary gets another term
County Commissioner Angenie McCleary proved she could retain her seat on her own merits on Tuesday, when Blaine County voters overwhelmingly elected her over independent challenger Mickey Garcia.
McCleary, a Democrat, was originally appointed to the Board of County Commissioners in July 2008, when Gov. Butch Otter chose her to replace retiring Commissioner Sarah Michael.
This was McCleary's first race for the position, which may have put her at a disadvantage against Garcia, who has run for Ketchum mayor, Ketchum City Council and the County Commission over his 25 years living in Ketchum.
Garcia, an independent, won 24 percent of the county's vote in this election, garnering 1,486 votes to McCleary's 4,497. Though it wasn't enough to win, it was an improvement over Garcia's percentage in last year's Ketchum mayoral election, when he won 11.4 percent of the vote.
Commissioner Tom Bowman was also up for re-election this year. He ran unopposed, and will retain his seat for a third term.