- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - With Idaho being a strong red state, the Republican primary is often considered the most competitive leg of the election because GOP candidates rarely face a strong Democratic challenge in November.

One aspect of Tuesday’s primary election watchers will closely follow is signs of how much the tea party has reshaped the state’s Republican Party.

Tea party activists are frustrated by what they see as incumbent Republicans not being conservative enough on issues like taxes and the federal stewardship of state lands.

At the forefront of the primary election is the closely contested gubernatorial race between two-term incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian.


Like most incumbents running for re-election for a statewide post, Otter faces a challenger favored by tea partiers. Tea party favorites are also running competitive races for secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction and attorney general as well as for congressional seats.

Fulcher said Otter should be replaced after leading Idaho astray by supporting the creation of a state-based health care exchange, which is allowed under the health care reform law but opposed by the state’s more conservative lawmakers. Otter, meanwhile, said he wants to continue strengthening the state’s economy.

With the current secretary of state retiring, four GOP challengers quickly swooped in to vie for the spot. Three of the four have legislative experience - former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, Mitch Toryanski of Boise, and Evan Frasure of Pocatello. Meanwhile, Phil McGrane, the youngest of the four, is Ada County’s deputy clerk and endorsed by incumbent Ben Ysursa.

The state’s incumbent superintendent of public instruction, Tom Luna, also chose not to run for another term, leading to four GOP names on the Republican ballot. They are John Eynon of Cottonwood, Andy Grover of Melba, Randy Jensen of American Falls, and Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home. Whoever wins the race will face Jana Jones in the general election. The Democratic challenger barely lost to Luna in 2006.

Lawrence Wasden, Idaho’s longest serving attorney general, is running against Boise attorney Chris Troupis. If elected, Troupis promised to pursue options that would allow Idaho to take control of federally managed public lands. The promise has been echoed by many tea party candidates, including Fulcher, Eynon and Denney. Wasden, meanwhile, said the idea is not viable.

In Idaho’s congressional districts, tea party and other conservative groups have attempted to oust veteran U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, but the Republican incumbent seems poised to win a ninth term.

Early in the election, the anti-tax group Club for Growth endorsed Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith and began spending significantly on his campaign. The conservative group has since eased its spending in the campaign.

In Idaho’s other congressional races, incumbents U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch face primary challengers but are expected to win and compete against their Democratic challengers in November.