- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The battle for a seat at the Idaho Supreme Court appeared to be heading to a runoff late Tuesday night, with candidates Robyn Brody and Curt McKenzie leading as the top vote getters.

With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Brody led with nearly 30 percent of votes. McKenzie was in second place with almost 28 percent.

Idaho requires supreme court candidates to win a majority of the vote in a primary election. If not, the top two candidates face off in the November general election.

The last time a supreme court justice race required a runoff was in 1998 after a three-way primary contest.

McKenzie, a seven-term Republican state senator, was able to take advantage of far-right voters who historically are the base in the GOP primaries.

Idaho Chooses Life, an anti-abortion organization, had thrown its support behind McKenzie. With their support, McKenzie’s conservative history at the Statehouse became billed as the pro-life judicial candidate - even though supreme court candidates are prohibited from talking about past political ties and how they would vote on key issues.

But Brody, an attorney from Rupert, managed to combat a lack of endorsements by outraising her opponents by nearly three times as much.

Attorneys across the state contributed several large donations totaling nearly $177,000, which was more than the rest of the other candidates combined.

Fellow candidates Clive Strong, a longtime deputy attorney general, and Sergio Gutierrez, a judge on Idaho’s Court of Appeals, trailed McKenzie late Tuesday night.

Idaho currently has no justices who are female or people of color. Iowa is the only other state with no women on its high court.

Meanwhile, the race for legislative seats was tight with far-right favorites hoping to oust so-called moderate GOP incumbents. Multiple lawmakers holding key positions inside the Statehouse faced challengers supported by tea party factions. However, most of the incumbents managed to hold the lead.

Some key exceptions included Megan Blanksma, a Republican from Hammett, who defeated Rep. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home.

Blanksma was one of just three challengers Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter endorsed rather than supporting the incumbent. She has no opponent in the November general election.

With no presidential or gubernatorial race on the ballot, fear of low voter turnout has resulted in multiple editorials across the state urging voters to fill out their ballots.

However, people who did show up Tuesday said that the importance of voting drew them out to the polls even if the political races did not.

“I just think it’s an honor and a privilege,” said Patricia Kopp, from Ada County. “People are just going away every year and voting less and less, and it’s sad because it’s something we need to do.”

Meanwhile, all 105 state legislative seats are up for grabs Tuesday. The fiercest competition will take place between far-right candidates going up against key establishment Republicans. In Republican-dominated Idaho, Democratic primary challengers are few and far between.

Four years ago, the Idaho Republican Party closed the state’s GOP primary so that only registered party members could participate. Despite fears, the move has not resulted in a steep drop in voter turnout. Instead, voter turnout in Idaho has hovered around 25 percent among registered voters in recent primary election cycles.

“Of course a presidential election is busier than this, and I wasn’t at the Republican primary a few weeks ago, but it seems like it’s been pretty decent …,” said Jo Ann Grensing, election volunteer in Ada County. “We didn’t get the usual lunch rush to me, but it seems like it’s been pretty fair turnout.”

Overall, Idaho’s GOP primary is often considered the most competitive leg of the election in the predominantly red Gem State because Republican candidates rarely face a strong Democratic challenger in November.

Idaho’s current congressional delegation won their respective Republican primaries Tuesday night.

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador won the Republican primary for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, easily fending off two challengers. U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson also won their primaries.


Associated Press correspondent Rebecca Boone contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to reflect how many states have people of color on their high courts.

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