This feature aired on NPR’s Morning Edition March 21, 2014. You can find the full transcript, here.
If there’s one place failed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney can still be effective, it’s in Idaho. The former Massachusetts governor won nearly 65 percent of Idaho votes in the 2012 presidential race.
Romney has kept a relatively low profile after his 2012 presidential defeat. But he’s back on the campaign trail, this time he’s stumping for Idaho’s two-time Republican Governor Butch Otter, eight-time Republican Congressman Mike Simpson, and Republican Senator Jim Risch, who’s running his first re-election campaign.
“I’m here today in Idaho and was here yesterday to make sure people understand that the people I‘m standing with right here are the right team of conservative leaders to help the people of Idaho,” Romney told reporters at a press conference Thursday in Boise.
Romney was in Boise hosting a high-end fundraiser for Gov. Otter. On Wednesday, he hosted a similar event for Congressman Simpson in Idaho Falls.
Romney says he’s thrown his support behind Idaho’s established Republicans, in part, because he believes Idaho is a good example of conservative governing.
“I also acknowledge they’re men of character and vision, and they’ve done a heck of a good job — and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he adds.
Like in other states, moderate Republicans Otter and Simpson are facing tough primary challenges from men who don’t think they’re conservative enough.
Longtime Idahoan Kevin Quinn says he isn’t a fan of Gov. Otter. Quinn works in sales for a tech manufacturer, owns a wine bar in Eagle, Idaho, and he has three grown kids.
Quinn, a registered Republican, says Gov.Otter hasn’t done enough to attract good-paying jobs to Idaho. He says he’s frustrated by Idaho’s distinction of being a low-wage state.
“We’ve become a telecommunications mecca from Boise all the way to Pocatello,” says Quinn.”It’s all about call centers. I think we need something far better than that to offer our kids when they come out of school.”
Still, voters like Quinn aren’t necessarily who Romney is trying to reach.
Romney’s job here is to energize the majority of the state’s Republicans says Andrus Center for Public Policy director David Adler.
“The Romney message is A) turn out to vote, it will be a close race. And B), let’s not veer into the wild right which will hurt Idaho and hurt America.”
Adler says the incumbent Republicans clearly realize that with Idaho’s relatively new closed GOP primary system, low voter turnout could make for a tough day for the more moderate candidates trying to keep their jobs.
“You want as many people within the GOP to turnout on the assumption there are more relatively moderate people within the GOP than there are hard right wingers,” says Adler.
Young Boise attorney Elijah Watkins is just the voter Romney’s endorsement is meant to push to the polls.
Watkins Voted for Romney in 2012. When it comes to Gov. Otter and Congressman Simpson…
“I think I’m ambivalent. I’m not so easily bought,” Watkins says with a laugh.
Watkins believes Idaho is coasting in the right direction, but he says the state’s elected leaders are focusing on the wrong issues. Watkins says he and his friends don’t really care about hot-button issues Idaho politicians have focused on like hunting wolves or allowing concealed guns on college campuses.
“They care about the money being infused into the state, and the jobs being brought to the state. And the education their kids are getting.”
With Idaho’s primary election two months away, voters like Elijah Watkins and Kevin Quinn still have plenty of time to decide if they’ll stick with the status quo, or vote to move the state in a different direction.