The big political question of the week goes like this: “What the heck’s Nancy Merrill thinking?”
Or, put in more scholarly terms, “Can a write-in candidate — even one who, as former Eagle mayor, has built-in name ID -- actually unseat a powerful member of the Legislature with a two-week campaign blitz?”
Odds and time are against Merrill, and on the side of Ada County’s most influential, albeit polarizing lawmaker, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.
Merrill’s on-again, off-again campaign kicked back into gear last weekend, 16 days before the May 27 primary. Voters are already casting absentee ballots – which list Moyle running alone in the GOP primary. Once voters figure out that Merrill is running, she has to educate voters about how to write in a candidate.
She has to create what advertisers would call top-of-mind awareness. She has to convince voters to have it in their heads to support her, since they will get no visual prompt when they look at a ballot.
Yet in a Statesman editorial board meeting Wednesday, she sounded serious. “It is a novel idea. It is an uphill battle. It’s not impossible.”
So again, what’s she thinking?
She’s expecting she’ll have campaign dollars, which can always be an equalizing force in elections. Merrill is convinced she will have $50,000 to $60,000 to run a race – although on Wednesday, she couldn’t say how much cash she had on hand. Merrill says she will not take political action committee money, but she has some high-powered backers, such as BoDo developer Mark Rivers and George Iliff, former board chairman of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Merrill’s surprise run may have given her a fund-raising jump on Moyle, who gave some of his campaign dollars to fellow Republicans facing contested elections. But it won’t take much effort for a member of leadership to raise campaign dollars in short order. Moyle wouldn't go into details Thursday, but said he will get some contributions from a few surprising sources. “I’ll pick up a bunch of money in the next few days.”
The pre-primary campaign finance reports – due Tuesday – should make for interesting reading.
Merrill is also banking on having the issues on her side — even though some of her former Eagle constituents have knocked City Hall around for its approach to rapid growth and its efforts to purchase Eagle Water Co. Watch for her to try to paint Moyle as a powerful one-man roadblock on local-option taxes, conservation easements and the Valley's new community college. "Right now, that power is being obstructionist in our district."
Meanwhile, watch for Moyle to run as a results-oriented incumbent who rescued the Connecting Idaho highway program, pushed for expansion of Idaho 16, forged a compromise on an air-quality bill and made more progress than anyone in state history on resolving the local-option fight. "You should know all the stuff I've done for District 14," a peeved Moyle told the editorial board Thursday. "I shouldn't have to sell."
Moyle isn't just irked at Merrill's last-minute challenge. He hasn't been thrilled with Statesman coverage that he believes has given the write-in race free publicity.
Sorry, but I'm not buying. This isn't just a run-of-the-mill write-in. This race pits a well-known former mayor against a legislative heavyweight. This race shines a bright light on the growth issues facing District 14 and the rest of the Valley. Covering this race — and making an endorsement, as we will next week — is an easy call.