Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2010 7:39 AM
By JOHN MILLER
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Democrats were on their way to losing as many as five state House seats during Tuesday's election as the Republican tide that swept the nation crashed on Idaho, too, leaving the minority party in tatters.
This voter rebuke could leave just 13 Democratic representatives in the state House, a mismatch against 57 Republicans.
As bad as it was for Idaho Democrats, however, it could have been even worse: Republican Mitch Toryanski was headed toward winning outgoing Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly's seat in Boise, though Democrats were slated to offset that blow by picking up a Senate position in Latah County, where Dan Schmidt likely dispatched a tea party-backed hopeful.
That would still leave seven Democratic senators, to 28 Republicans.
In Tuesday's Democratic House debacle, Republican Jim Guthrie won with Pocatello voters after Democratic Assistant Minority Leader Rep. James Ruchti resigned, leaving an open seat. And in northern Idaho, Republican Shannon McMillan beat six-term Democrat Mary Lou Shepherd in Wallace.
In Boise, former GOP Rep. Julie Ellsworth was leading to fill an open seat in the suburbs southeast of the capital city's downtown.
In Lewiston, a union milltown, no less, Rep. Liz Chavez was being beaten by the city's former mayor, Republican Jeff Nesset, just after 3 a.m Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Republican Kathleen Sims was ahead of Democrat Paula Marano in Coeur d'Alene, to fill the seat vacated when longtime Democratic Rep. George Sayler decided to step down.
The wave of disaffection that struck the party of President Obama nationwide Tuesday night -- nearly 60 GOP wins put Republicans back into the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives -- could hardly have missed the political scene in Idaho, one of the nation's reddest states.
Back in 2008, excitement over President Obama's election, even in Idaho, helped limit Democratic losses to just a single state House seat.
But this year's retirement of Sayler and Ruchti, as well as the risky venture by Rep. Branden Durst to challenge Toryanski for Kelly's Senate seat that appeared to be failing early Wednesday, left the Democratic Party vulnerable to damaging losses.
If the vote counts hold, Idaho Democrats won't have wielded so little power in the House in years.
They would have six fewer members than just four years ago, when they won 19 seats during what, in hindsight, has proven itself to be a short-lived resurgence.
What's more, wins in southeastern Boise by Toryanski and Ellsworth, a former member of House leadership before she lost in 2006, would undercut the potency of the argument that Democrats had established a stronghold in Idaho's capital city.
Now, only Democratic seats in places like Boise's left-leaning North End neighborhood or tony Sun Valley seem secure.
Minority party losses will likely have policy consequences: Democrats could have to give up one of four coveted seats on the joint budget committee, giving them even less of a voice when it comes to setting Idaho's spending plan for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
Those are critical years, because state officials fear state revenue, while undergoing a modest recovery, might not be enough to keep up with existing levels of services.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.