BOISE, Idaho—Reflecting discontent with incumbents, the war in Iraq and with President Bush, Idaho voters have become restive in the waning days before the election and are turning toward Democratic candidates for the first time since the early 1990s, a new poll suggests.
The poll by the Idaho Statesman and by the Boise ABC television affiliate shows that races for congress, the governor and school superintendent are essentially tied.
Now, the state with the nation's highest proportion of GOP legislators has a nail-biter election that will turn on last-minute advertising, debates and get-out-the-vote organization.
"At this point in a typical campaign, Idaho Democrats are dispirited and looking for moral victories," said Jim Weatherby, a political scientist who has overseen polling at Boise State University. "This time, it looks like they may actually pull off some major victories."
In interviews with 42 of the 625 voters polled, the Statesman was told they want change largely because of disapproval of President Bush and the Iraq war.
Idaho GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan said the national mood is hurting Republicans in the reddest of states.
"Idaho has been rather immune to the attitude and mood of the public across the nation," he said. "But this time, based on the amount of coverage that appears to be anti-Bush and anti-war, I believe that attitude has invaded Idaho."
Democrats haven't won a governor's race since 1990 or a seat in Congress since 1992.
In the governor's race, Republican Rep. Butch Otter leads Democratic newspaper owner Jerry Brady by a single percentage point.
In the First Congressional District, Republican state Rep. Bill Sali has a 2 percentage point lead over Democratic businessman Larry Grant for the seat that includes Boise and runs from along the western boundary of the state north to Canada.
In the statewide race to oversee public schools, Democrat Jana Jones leads Republican Tom Luna by 3 percentage points.
Because of the poll's margin of error, all three are statistical dead heats.
A fourth race shows Republican Gov. Jim Risch is leading former congressman Larry LaRocco by 9 percentage points in the race for lieutenant governor.
The GOP's Sullivan said the poll results don't surprise him.
"We're working very hard to spread those numbers between now and Election Day. We're going to do everything in our power with phone calls, mail, and very good volunteers working across all of our precincts," he said.
Republicans must overcome a handicap rarely faced by the party that's controlled the Idaho Legislature since 1960: GOP candidates are seen in an unfavorable light far more than Democrats, the poll shows.
Democrats also appear to have momentum.
A poll conducted by the Brady campaign in July showed him trailing Otter by 19 points. Now, they're even. Jones trailed Luna 41-28 in July, and Grant has reversed early numbers showing him well behind.
Democrats acknowledge they are using a get-out-the-vote system that's never been tried in Idaho and are at a decided disadvantage when it comes to the experience of winning. "It's been so long since a Democrat's been in this position, nobody knows what to do," said Grant, the Democratic congressional candidate.
National Republicans are making unprecedented expenditures to keep Idaho red.
In October alone, the National Republican Congressional Committee reported spending $347,893 on Sali's behalf. The anti-tax Club for Growth added $181,821 and the National Right to Life PAC chipped in $30,541. Friday afternoon, the Republican Governors Association reported spending $172,980 on polling and TV ads attacking Brady.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who campaigned for Sali in Boise in August, will stump in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, next week.
"These races have all of a sudden jumped on the national radar and it's getting quite exciting," said Idaho Democratic Chairman Richard Stallings, who spent eight years in Congress between 1985-93. "There's a level of enthusiasm that I've not seen since I was running in 1990. You're going to see the adrenaline kick in for this last week, and it's going to be one great campaign and one great election."
In the poll, a majority, 53 percent, of those polled said Bush's performance was "only fair or poor." Forty-six percent rated the president as "excellent" or "good."
His handling of Iraq was disapproved by a 49-42 percent margin.
The Statesman's poll did not question voters in the state's other congressional district. In the second district, Republican incumbent Mike Simpson, who was first elected in 1998, is pitted against Democrat Jim Hansen, the executive director of United Vision for Idaho, a non-profit government watchdog organization.
ABOUT THE POLL
This survey of 625 likely voters was conducted between Oct. 23 to the 25 for the Idaho Statesman and KIVI, the local ABC affiliate. The margin of error statewide is plus or minus 4 percentage points; in the 1st District that rises to 6 percentage points. Likely voters were polled last week by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research of Washington.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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