The trend is hard to deny, though soaring like an eagle might be a slight overstatement given the race is a dead heat. But a dead heat in Idaho two weeks before the election was good enough for today. The themes of the day focused on those close to the heart of both Montanans and Idahoans--keeping public lands public, energy independence, establishing a fair tax structure, and strengthening education.
Brady and Schweitzer hit particularly hard on the public lands issue. It resonates in this land where hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation reign. And against Butch Otter particularly, who earned the wrath of many westerners when he co-sponsored legislation for a massive one time sell-off of western public lands for Hurricane Katrina relief. The legislation would have required
...the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to select 15 percent of the land in the national forest system and sell it off, and the Secretary of the Interior to do the same for Interior lands, excluding national parks. "Priority locations" are identified as those states where the feds own more than 15 percent of the total land area.
Idaho, of course, has massive amounts of federal land - 63.1 percent of the state.
The public lands issue can't be oversold in a state like Idaho or Montana. Otter's support for the sell-off alone accounts for the overwhelming support Brady has received from all of the hunting and fishing organizations. Not only do these sites provide for recreation for the states' residents, they are the backbone to the growing tourism industry in both states--dollars that shore up both states' economies. It's hard to overestimate the resonance Brady's theme "Idaho is Not For Sale" has with Idaho voters.
But he's also been doing work on the ground. He's been to everyone of Idaho's 44 counties and has organized all over the state. His opponent has approached this race from the beginning with the sense that it was his birthright, though he did take a cynical step or two to make himself more palatable to the state's more morally conservative voters, particularly the Mormons. He finally married his girlfriend of ten years (after they both got anulments from their previous marriages). But Brady has beat Otter in the ground game for the entire 18 months that he's been running. That hard work seems to be paying off.
I'll have more thoughts on the Idaho ground game, what's changed in Idaho since I last campaigned here in 1994, and a wrap up of my few days here tomorrow. In the meantime, relish the thought that this deep red state is starting to tinge just a little bit purple.
On the Web:
Brady for Idaho Governor