early and often

Idaho Governor Brad Little Fends Off Trumpy Usurper

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

While most of the attention was on the tense Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania and the fall of Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina, Idaho and Oregon held May 17 primaries as well, with gubernatorial contests serving as the highlight.

In Idaho, incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little trounced Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who had constantly argued against, and even interfered with, the governor’s public-health policies. McGeachin was endorsed by Donald Trump back in November of 2021 after she won headlines for her ridiculous efforts to cancel Little’s COVID policies whenever he left the state (briefly making her acting governor), though he always came home and overruled her. But she never really got much traction against Little, who has been popular and solidly conservative. And the fiery challenger got into hot water by joining Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar in speaking (albeit via a recording) at the annual meeting of a white-supremacist group in Florida. As Idaho journalist Melissa Davlin explained on the eve of the primary, this was not one of Trump’s smarter endorsements:

While he didn’t get the endorsement, Little also isn’t necessarily at odds with Trump, and worked closely with his administration on regulatory reductions and other initiatives. Little is more of a Mike Pence Republican than a Donald Trump Republican – focused on the economy, infrastructure, and small government – and that’s a message that sells in much of Idaho. Also, after the initial endorsement in November, we haven’t heard much else from Trump on this race. He hasn’t come here to campaign for McGeachin like he has for candidates elsewhere.

In Oregon, unpopular Democratic Governor Kate Brown is term-limited, which produced competitive primaries in both parties. There’s widespread disgruntlement in Oregon over state and local governments’ inability to deal with chronic problems, like Portland’s drug and homelessness crises. The removal of former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof from the ballot for failure to meet a constitutional residency requirement for candidates eliminated a promising “outsider” option for fixing Oregon’s problems and left Democrats with two major candidates who were already in statewide office. Former Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, enjoying high name ID and abundant endorsements from progressive groups and public-sector unions, was the front-runner from the get-go. State Treasurer Tobias Read tried to create a “moderate” lane for himself, feeding on Democratic fears that Kotek was too much like Brown and might find a way to lose in this strongly Democratic state. But Kotek won handily, winning most of the state’s population centers.

Republicans, sensing an opportunity for their first gubernatorial win in Oregon since 1982, had a crowded primary field. The two vote leaders with the race unresolved are both former conservative state legislators who aren’t closely aligned with the MAGA movement: Christine Drazan, a former Republican leader in the legislature, and Bob Tiernan, who has a history of proposing law-and-order initiatives. Drazan has the advantage as of this writing, but Oregon is an all-voting-by-mail state that counts ballots postmarked by primary day but received within the next week, so final results could take a while.

Both Kotek and the eventual Republican nominee will face a well-financed independent candidate in November: former Democratic legislator Betsy Johnson, who is campaigning as a centrist in what will likely be a polarized general election. Almost anything can happen with a sour public mood threatening the state’s recent Democratic heritage.

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Idaho Governor Brad Little Fends Off Trumpy Usurper