CHUCK MALLOY: Idaho Dems change course, go with Biden

| March 16, 2020 4:29 PM

Four years ago, Idaho gave Sen. Bernie Sanders nearly 80 percent in its Democratic presidential caucus, adding fuel to his socialistic revolution.

More recently — in the March 10 primary — Democrats gave the nod to former Vice President Joe Biden, securing his place as the frontrunner for his party’s nomination.

Some thoughts here: Organizing for a primary election is far more difficult than building a coalition for a caucus. Four years ago, Sanders had youth, enthusiasm and noise coming from his side — people who were willing to stand on their feet for hours on end, cheering for their candidate. Sanders also benefited from a relatively low voter turnout.

This time, it was a primary vote and a different scenario played out. As with Democrats in other states, Idaho had a choice: Vote for the candidate based on political ideology (Sanders), or go with Biden, thinking he’s the guy with the best chance of beating Trump. In the end, Idaho followed other states that have rallied behind the former Vice President.

Most of the Democratic candidates in recent weeks, seeing what was happening with voters, have ended their campaigns and thrown their support to Biden. But Sanders remains in, apparently until the nation’s last billionaire goes broke. Mathematically, there’s no other reason for him to stay in other than to pile on more negative ads against Biden, and to examine the former vice president’s voting record from decades ago.

Sanders is all for uniting behind the candidate who can win in November, as long as he is the guy that everybody is uniting behind.

“I was never convinced that people were hungry for a revolution,” said Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise. “These are turbulent times. We have an impulsive and unpredictable president, the coronavirus and uncertainty with our relationships with allies. I think people are looking for a return to normalcy, stability and decency.”

Former Idaho Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco said that until recently, he was concerned that Democrats would turn to Sanders. LaRocco’s worries went away after Super Tuesday, and he was not surprised that Idahoans went with Biden. “Electability is the main issue, and Sanders is not the one who can beat Trump,” he said.

Sanders’ continued run shouldn’t come as a surprise, because he is not known for being a team player. In fact, he really isn’t part of a team. The Senate, as with most other partisan governing bodies, has Republican and Democratic caucuses. Then, there’s Bernie Sanders, the lone independent socialist. He’s a “caucus” of one.

His “revolution” is not new; he’s been talking about a variation of socialism for the 30 years he has served in Congress, mostly spinning his wheels. He has appealed to those who apparently have little understanding of basic civics — the fact that presidential proposals are subject to congressional approval. For starters, Sanders wouldn’t have any chance of getting even a single Republican to vote for his plan and his support among Democrats would be shaky, at best. Amazingly, the media has allowed Sanders to chirp away, without answering how to push a socialistic agenda through Congress.

Rubel’s focus is on Idaho’s Legislature, but she could well speak for some congressional Democrats here. “I am not a socialist. I am a capitalist, and I think most Democrats are — at least in my caucus,” she said.

Biden, at age 77, is not the most dynamic candidate that Democrats could have settled for. But Rubel, for one, would much rather have Biden heading the ticket than Sanders.

“My goal is to expand the size of my caucus, and Biden gives the best chance for winning the White House,” she said. Branding all Democrats as socialists — which certainly would happen with a Sanders nomination — would not help Idaho politicos.

Democrats here have daunting challenges, even with Biden as their candidate. President Trump’s approval rating among Republicans in this GOP-rich state is somewhere over 90 percent, and it’s almost certain that he easily will carry Idaho regardless of who Democrats field.

But at least Biden offers a degree of comfort for the few Democrats in Idaho who hold public offices.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at