Today’s appetizer is a nice, big plate of crow: I was among those misguided observers who thought Ron Paul would win Idaho’s GOP caucus Tuesday.
Don’t come to me next week looking for help filling out your brackets. You don’t want it.
I may not be good at predicting the future, but I am a little bit more comfortable looking at recent events and trying to put them in perspective. So, let’s talk about Tuesday’s historic Idaho GOP caucus.
Yes, we all focused on the last-minute, and itself historic, candidate barnstorming through Idaho. And many of us speculated about whether the caucus format favored a candidate such as Paul or Rick Santorum, who could bring out a devoted core of supporters willing to sit through an evening of voting.
Yet Tuesday’s caucus played out much like any “typical” election, favoring the candidate with the most obvious inherent competitive advantages.
Mitt Romney had the big-name backing: from Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch, Rep. Mike Simpson, among others. He had nurtured his Idaho base with frequent trips to the state — although most of those were top-dollar fundraisers. And his ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly helped, especially in Eastern Idaho. (Romney rolled to huge victories in Mormon strongholds, but didn’t carry a single county in the Pacific time zone, where Mormon candidates historically struggle.)
Idaho’s GOP leadership got the best of both worlds Tuesday.
They got to host a caucus “event.” When more than 9,000 people showed up at Taco Bell Arena, using seats that go untouched for an entire Boise State hoops season, the Idaho GOP hosted the nation’s largest caucus under one roof.
And the choice of much of the GOP “establishment” won with ease. For Romney, Idaho was his second biggest win of Super Tuesday, trailing only his home state of Massachusetts. For Romney’s Idaho backers, who have stood by the GOP’s consistently inconsistent frontrunner, there has to be a measure of vindication in Tuesday’s caucus results.
Meanwhile, the results exposed the weakness of Paul’s support in Idaho. This is a candidate who received 23.7 percent of the vote in 2008’s late (and irrelevant) Idaho primary — but clearly, now, that showing was largely an indictment of the one name on the ballot, nominee-in-waiting John McCain. For Paul to make two campaign swings through Idaho, and walk off with only 18 percent of the vote and wins in just six counties, can only be seen as a disappointment.
And what do the results say about the makeup of the Idaho GOP, two months away from a historic closed primary May 15? Probably not much. The crowds were big at the caucuses, but the voter sample was small. Ultimately, 8,172 people voted in the Taco Bell Arena caucus; 26,200 people voted in the May 2008 GOP presidential primary.
So I’m drawing no broad conclusions from Tuesday’s results. That would be a prescription for making bad predictions — and I’ve met my quota for the month.