BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A string of high-profile endorsements inside Idaho’s Democratic gubernatorial race has highlighted the growing differences between the top two candidates vying to become the state’s Democratic nominee.
Former state lawmaker Paulette Jordan said Thursday she secured support from Democracy for America in her bid to be Idaho’s next governor. The liberal group lined up behind several competitive Democratic races across the country, and is agreeing to offer its support to four other Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Meanwhile, Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff is steadily collecting support from Democratic leaders in Idaho. As of Thursday, Balukoff’s campaign noted it had already secured endorsements from five Democratic incumbent lawmakers and three former Democratic legislators, including former House Minority John Rusche.
The announcements offer a striking difference between the two: Balukoff — who has never before won an elected seat in Idaho — is securing the support of several key Democrats who have succeeded running in Idaho. Yet Jordan — who ousted a Republican while running for the Legislature in 2014 — is collecting support from outside political groups jumping into a race they often ignore.
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The governor’s race is wide open now that four-term Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hasn’t filed to run for re-election. However, in Republican-dominant Idaho, most Democratic candidates face an uphill battle in statewide and local elections.
The last time Idaho voters elected a Democrat to the top seat was former Gov. Cecil Andrus in 1990. Andrus, who died last year, served four non-consecutive terms.
In 2014, Balukoff, 71, unsuccessfully ran for political office for the first time as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate against Otter. Despite spending more than $3 million of his own funds, Balukoff went on to secure nearly 39 percent of the vote to 54 percent for Otter.
This time, Balukoff’s experience working as a Boise developer and school board member has attracted praise from legislative leaders.
“(A.J.’s) focus on fixing Idaho’s education and health care systems so kids and families can prosper is exactly what this state needs,” Rep. Phylis King said, a six-term Democrat from Boise. “I think his experience, his vision for Idaho and his values make him the best choice for Governor. He has my support, 100 percent.”
If elected, Jordan, 38, would become not only Idaho’s first female governor, but also the first Native American woman to be governor in the nation. That distinction has quickly attracted national attention from multiple media and liberal groups. For example, Jordan received an endorsement from Cher after the two met at the Las Vegas women’s march in January.
“I am so honored to have the support and endorsement of Democracy for America because they recognize the energy and urgency to elect progressive leaders in places like Idaho and I am excited to join their team,” Jordan said in a prepared statement.
Most recently, Democracy for America made 300,000 phone calls in a Kansas special congressional election last spring that national Democrats largely ignored. Republican Ron Estes still won, but by 6 percentage points — after a 30-point GOP win last November.