BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republican voters came out in full force for Lt. Gov. Brad Little in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary, showing support of a candidate who has vowed to continue outgoing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s legacy of leading the state’s recent explosive growth.
“It is incredibly humbling,” Little said during his acceptance speech. “In case you didn’t notice, this was a pretty hard fought campaign but it’s over now, and we’ll do what Republicans do in Idaho, now is time to turn our attention to November.”
Little, who was the first to throw his hat in the gubernatorial seat in 2016, won the primary race against first-time political candidate Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist and four-term U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador.
The Republican is an Idaho native who has spent the past 16 years in elected office.
Otter — a three term governor who declined to run a fourth term— appointed Little the lieutenant governor seat in 2009 with the expectation he would one day become the Republican governor’s successor.
Ahlquist issued a statement congratulating Little on the “hard-fought race” and thanking his campaign supporters shortly after the race was called by AP.
“I look forward to supporting him (Little) in the general election and wish him the best,” Ahlquist wrote, calling the race a “life changing experience.”
Come November, Little will face off against former Democratic state Rep. Paulette Jordan — who became the state’s first female Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
Jordan easily defeating longtime Boise school board member A.J. Balukoff. She is joined on the Democratic ticket by lieutenant governor nominee Kristin Collum, an Army veteran who left the military after 12 years to work in the tech sector.
“I didn’t win this race by Democrats alone. We won this race by everyone,” Jordan told supporters celebrating at a downtown Boise bar.
However, despite anticipation that Jordan will be a formidable opponent in the general election, the winner of the Republican primary in Idaho tends to indicate who will be Idaho’s next governor come January.
Idaho hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990, and the Republican Party now controls a supermajority on all federal, state and legislative seats.
The incoming governor will take over a state experiencing tremendous growth in residents and low unemployment. However, the state is facing a deficit of skilled workers to fill key tech jobs and grappling with a troubled education system where teachers often leave due to low wages.
The new governor will also face key health care decisions now that supporters of a Medicaid expansion initiative effort claim they have collected enough signatures to get it on the November ballot. If the initiative passes with just a simple majority, the next governor will be in charge of implementing Medicaid expansion for the first time in Idaho
In the crowded 1st Congressional District race, Republican Russ Fulcher won the nomination for the seat being vacated by Republican Congressman Raul Labrador, who was running for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in a race that was still too close to call just before midnight.
Fulcher, 56, beat six other Republicans in Tuesday’s primary.
Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra won her party’s primary in her pursuit to secure a second four-year term as Superintendent of Public Instruction. She’ll face Democrat Boise teacher Cindy Wilson in the November general election.
Meanwhile, five Republicans are vying to become the state’s next lieutenant governor: Idaho Falls businesswoman Janice McGeachin, former Idaho Republican Party Chairman Steve Yates, state Rep. Kelley Packer, and state Sens. Bob Nonini and Marv Hagedorn. That race was also too close to call at the end of the day Tuesday.