BOISE — In the final week before Tuesday’s primary election, Idaho’s airwaves are crackling with charges and counter-charges, as candidates get in their last shots before voters head to the polls.
In a single hour of local news programming on Idaho Press news partner KTVB-TV on Wednesday, 26 political commercials aired, all in Idaho GOP primary races, and that’s including only a handful of repeats. “For voters watching, it’s a lot to kind of process at once,” said Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler.
It also becomes increasingly hard to tell which messages are from the candidates and which are from outside groups, she noted; two outside groups are running ads in the 2nd Congressional District primary race, in addition to the candidates’ own ads. But Kettler said research suggests that “the more ads you see, the more you’re aware that there’s an election.” Viewers might not enjoy the onslaught, she said, but it might give them more information and motivation as they prepare to make their picks at the polls.
Here’s a look at the current crop of TV ads, based on the two dozen-plus that aired from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday on KTVB:
Both incumbent GOP Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is challenging him in the primary, have new ads out this week. McGeachin’s latest, her second TV commercial, opens with her endorsement by Donald Trump, as did her first ad back when the campaign had just begun in January, but then immediately shifts to attacks on Little.
“Mr. Little has openly described himself as a RINO, a Republican in Name Only, and he cast the deciding vote to increase taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood in Idaho,” the ad claims.
The cited source for the “RINO” claim is a Sept. 20, 2013 article in the Lewiston Tribune about Little announcing that he’d seek reelection as lieutenant governor in 2014. In the article, addressing transportation funding, Little says “I guess I’m a RINO because I think we shouldn’t let our roads go to hell.”
McGeachin has been making the claim that Little is a “self-described RINO” repeatedly in campaign speeches as well as in the new ad. “It seems like a clear example of a campaign deliberately trying to misconstrue an opponent’s statement,” Kettler said. “I’m not sure it does so successfully.”
No source is cited for the Planned Parenthood claim. The McGeachin campaign promised to provide a citation to the Idaho Press on Wednesday but provided only a bill number without a year; bill numbers repeat over the years. It’s unclear what the claim is referring to.
McGeachin’s ad continues with criticisms of Little for receiving campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies, and for vetoing this year’s “Coronavirus Pause Act” which sought to forbid employer COVID vaccine requirements in Idaho for a year; major Idaho employers opposed the bill. Her ad concludes, “Vote McGeachin for governor to make Idaho free again.”
Little’s campaign spokesman, Hayden Rogers, said, “The governor’s been endorsed by our police, he’s been endorsed by our teachers, he’s been endorsed by our firefighters, he’s been endorsed by Idaho Choose Life, he’s been endorsed by the NRA, and his conservative credentials stack up against anyone.”
Little has two new campaign commercials out this week, one a positive one highlighting his record as governor, and the other an attack ad against McGeachin.
The first, which began airing several days ago, opens, “When liberal elites were pushing for lockdowns, I said, ‘get lost.’ We said no to the liberal mask and vaccine mandates, and kept our economy open. Now Idaho has record low unemployment and we’re the national leader in economic growth.” While Little did impose a statewide stay-at-home order when the pandemic first hit Idaho in March of 2020, it was lifted 37 days later and he never imposed mask or vaccine requirements. “As your governor, I will always protect your freedoms and I will always fight for hardworking small businesses that are the backbone of our economy,” Little says in the ad, concluding, “In Idaho we cherish our liberty and we fight for our jobs.”
Kettler noted that McGeachin has been highly critical of Little’s pandemic responses. The ad appears to be “really kind of challenging, not allowing her or her campaign to claim ownership of those issues,” she said.
Little’s attack ad against McGeachin says, “Idahoans can’t afford Janice McGeachin as governor. In the state Legislature, McGeachin voted against $260 million in property tax relief for Idaho families.” That’s a reference to HB 1 in the 2006 special legislative session, which cut property taxes while raising the sales tax a penny to 6%, at the urging of then-Gov. Jim Risch. McGeachin cast one of 23 “no” votes in the House; Little, who then served in the Senate, cast one of 24 “yes” votes there.
The ad continues, “McGeachin backed a new tax on everything from haircuts to car repairs. Her tax hike plan would have cost Idaho families hundreds of millions of dollars.” The Little campaign cites a Nov. 10, 2010 Idaho Business Review article about various tax proposals lawmakers were floating ahead of the 2011 legislative session. In the article, McGeachin talked about lowering the sales tax from 6% to 4%, “saying that would encourage business growth. To offset the revenue loss, McGeachin proposes a service tax on providers such as lawyers, accountants, hair stylists and car mechanics,” the article said.
However, McGeachin never ended up proposing such a bill in 2011. The closest proposal was a personal bill from then-Democratic Rep. Shirley Ringo to lower the sales tax from 6% to 5% while eliminating various exemptions including those for nine categories of services.
“Taxes tend to be a major issue for many voters, especially, perhaps, in the Republican primary,” Kettler said.
Little’s ad continues, “When McGeachin got sued for breaking the law, she tried to stick Idaho taxpayers with $50,000 in legal bills.” That is the amount of a supplemental appropriation McGeachin requested in taxpayer funds last fall to cover legal costs for her loss in a public records lawsuit; she later lowered the request to roughly $29,000, but lawmakers never acted on it. The ad concludes, “Janice McGeachin, bad for Idaho and wrong for governor.”
Kettler said both Little and McGeachin focused earlier on their records and endorsements, and are “now, here at the end, spending money and energy attacking the other. … Voters may remember them more … so that might be part of that motivation for right here at the end, to kind of get those attacks out.”
During the single hour of programming on KTVB on Wednesday, McGeachin’s ad aired once, and Little’s anti-McGeachin ad aired twice.
Current House Speaker Scott Bedke is running two commercials that he also ran earlier in the campaign, both touting his views and values. Neither mentions his GOP primary opponent, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird. While Giddings has been sending out fundraising letters urging her supporters to donate to get her ads on the air, none appeared during this hour. Four of the 26 ads that aired were for Bedke, including two repeats.
In the 2nd District congressional race, the commercial messages have been hot and heavy between incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Simpson and challenger Bryan Smith. Of the 26 ads, 11 were for or against Simpson or Smith, including four sponsored by outside groups. America Proud PAC, funded by Money Metals Exchange owner Stefan Gleason and an Idaho Falls doctor, ran three against Simpson, including one that suggested he’s been in office for 42 years. Simpson was first elected to Congress in 1998, 24 years ago. He served in the Idaho House before that, including as speaker of the House from 1992 to 1998.
American Dream Federal Action, a PAC funded entirely by $4 million from a cryptocurrency platform CEO from New Hampshire, ran an ad promoting Simpson, praising him on issues ranging from energy to conservative values.
Meanwhile, both Simpson’s and Smith’s own ads sharply criticize their opponent. Kettler said it continues an unusual pattern in this race of the candidates running attack ads against each other, while leaving it to outside groups to run positive ads for their favored candidates.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo also has a new ad out, and it’s in a style usually reserved for “comparison” ads between a candidate and challenger, opening with grim black-and-white images, before shifting to reassuring color images of the incumbent. But Crapo’s sinister initial images feature Democratic President Joe Biden, rather than any of his challengers this year.
“He probably doesn’t have to, but he’s got plenty of money so he might as well,” Kettler said of Crapo running the ad. “It can help for turnout and things like that.”
Longtime Idaho GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, whose previous advertising messages have focused on his record as Idaho’s “constitutional conservative” attorney general, is now running an attack ad against challenger Raul Labrador, a former 1st District congressman; the anti-Labrador ad took up five of the 26 ad slots during the hour.
“Raul Labrador and D.C. special interests are lying about Lawrence Wasden, but then Labrador’s never really been honest with us,” the ad says. “Did you know Labrador is a criminal defense attorney turned lobbyist?” The ad then criticizes positions Labrador took, including opposing allowing local police departments to receive surplus military equipment for free, a position that was unpopular with Idaho law enforcement agencies. The ad shifts from bleak black-and-white images to color as it concludes by showing Wasden, saying, “Vote again for Lawrence Wasden, our tough-on-crime attorney general.”
Out-of-state groups have been targeting Wasden in independent expenditure campaigns that appear intended to support Labrador, but never mention him.
SECRETARY OF STATE
The only ads in the Secretary of State race that aired during the hour were for Phil McGrane, one of three Republicans vying in the May 17 primary. One slot was one of his earlier ads, touting his credentials as an elections expert, as he’s the current Ada County clerk. The other two both featured a new ad that focuses on his support for gun rights, opposition to abortion, and opposition to “federal overreach,” including on election issues.
Common themes in the ads from all the GOP candidates include opposition to abortion and support for gun rights, to the point that many of the candidates are shown carrying or using firearms. “They’re hitting those key issues for Republican voters,” Kettler said.