POLITICS
05/16/2018 01:29 am ET Updated May 17, 2018

Idaho Inches Closer To Electing The Nation's First Native American Governor

Paulette Jordan won the Democratic primary in the Idaho governor's race.
Idaho Democrats sided with the more progressive candidate in Tuesday's primary election for governor.
Sam Morris/Getty Images
Idaho Democrats sided with the more progressive candidate in Tuesday's primary election for governor.

WASHINGTON ― Progressive Democrat Paulette Jordan won Tuesday night’s primary in the Idaho governor’s race, setting her up for a tough November election but with a shot at becoming the nation’s first Native American governor.

Jordan, a two-term state legislator, defeated multimillionaire and Boise school board member A.J. Balukoff. She won more than 58 percent of the vote, despite being significantly outspent and up against her party’s establishment.

Jordan will now face Lt. Gov. Brad Little in November. He won Tuesday night’s GOP primary with 37 percent of the vote. He defeated U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador and real estate developer Tommy Ahlquist.

It is a long-shot bid for Jordan, 38. She’s running as a pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-marijuana legalization, pro-Medicaid expansion Democrat in a deeply red state. The last time Idaho elected a Democratic governor was in 1990.

Little, 64, has been lieutenant governor since 2009 and is the heir apparent to Gov. Butch Otter (R), who decided not to run for another term. He is anti-abortion, opposes same-sex marriage and is not a fan of expanding Medicaid, though he said he would not repeal a Medicaid expansion initiative on the November ballot if it is passed by voters.

Jordan does have some advantages, namely that her candidacy is just plain exciting. She is a young woman of color running for a seat that a woman has never held in Idaho. An enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, she would make history as the country’s first Native American governor. And her campaign comes at a time when Democrats are energized and flooding the polls nationwide in response to Donald Trump’s presidency.

Democratic turnout was off the charts in Tuesday’s elections. Precincts in and around Boise, a major hub of Democratic voters, actually ran out of ballots at one point. Statewide, Democratic turnout was more than double what it had been in the 2014 primary. That year, about 25,000 Democrats voted for a gubernatorial candidate. This time, more than 65,000 did.

Republican turnout was up in Idaho too, but not by as much as Democratic turnout. More than 155,000 Republicans voted for a gubernatorial candidate in 2014. This year, more than 191,000 did.

Jordan, who has deep roots in Idaho’s ranching culture, has some appeal among independents. A March poll by Idaho Politics Weekly found that 19 percent of independents said they liked Jordan best. That’s compared to 13 percent of independents saying they preferred Ahlquist and 12 percent saying they liked Labrador. Nine percent of independents said they preferred Little.

The same poll showed no clear front-runner in the general election. Among all voters, Jordan polled at 15 percent. Labrador and Ahlquist polled at 16 and 15 percent, respectively. Little polled at 11 percent.

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