In Friday morning’s column I chewed on whether Democrats might overcome President Obama's unpopularity and gain seats in the Legislature this year.
I didn't have room to share what I learned by reviewing every presidential race since statehood. I couldn't have done this without Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's invaluable Blue Book, edited by Pat Herman.
There have been 23 contests with an incumbent president or vice president on the ballot since 1890. Partisan data doesn't exist for the 1892 legislative election, but the Blue Book provides the rest.
In short, Idaho Republicans gained in 13 of the 22 elections.
In the 13 elections when incumbent Republicans topped the presidential ticket, Idaho Republicans made net gains in nine of those years, with Democrats doing better four times.
In the 10 elections when incumbent Democrats were at the top, Democrats added seats five times and retreated five times.
After reading the column, Boise State political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby said he found a pattern: Idaho Democrats can pick up legislative seats when they have a strong candidate at the top.
In four of the five cases where Idaho Democrats gained seats, the presidents were Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt (twice) and Harry Truman, all Democratic wins. The one exception was Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Republican Richard Nixon in 1968. But the Democrats' legislative gain was just two seats in that historically wrenching year, the lowest shift of any of the 22.
This year is not likely to have most Idahoans considering Obama in the same league with Wilson, FDR and Truman. “Both (Bill) Clinton and Obama have or are as unpopular in Idaho as most anywhere else,” notes Weatherby.
Here’s the dope:
1892: partisan affiliation not available
1900: Incumbent Republican William McKinley reelected. Idaho Democrats add nine seats, Republicans gain six. (This in the day of Populists and Silver Republicans, who held a total of 17 seats in a 91-seat Legislature).
1904: Incumbent Republican Theodore Roosevelt reelected. Republicans gain 18 seats, Democrats lose 13.
1916: Incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson reelected. Democrats gain 18 seats, Republicans lose six.
1924: Incumbent Republican Vice President Calvin Coolidge wins. Republicans gain 15 seats, Democrats lose 26. (Among 91 seats, 19 are held by Progressives).
1932: Incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover loses to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt . Democrats gain 46 seats, Republicans surrender 53.
1936: Incumbent FDR reelected. Republicans gain six, Democrats lose six.
1940: Incumbent FDR wins third term. Democrats gain 14, Republicans lose nine.
1944: Incumbent FDR wins fourth term. Democrats gain nine, Republicans lose nine.
1948: Incumbent Democrat Harry Truman, who became president after FDR died in 1945, wins. Democrats gain 18 seats, Republicans lose 18.
1956: Incumbent Republican Dwight Eisenhower reelected. Democrats gain nine seats, Republicans lose nine.
1960: Incumbent GOP Vice President Richard Nixon loses to John F. Kennedy. Republicans gain 13 seats, Democrats lose 13.
1964: Incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency after Kennedy’s assassination, wins. Republicans gain 10 seats, Democrats lose 10.
1968: Incumbent Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey defeated by Nixon. Democrats gain two seats, Republicans lose two.
1972: Incumbent Republican Nixon reelected. Republicans gain 14, Democrats lose 14.
1976: Incumbent Republican Gerald Ford, who succeeded after Nixon’s resignation, loses to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Republicans gain 10 seats, Democrats surrender 10.
1980: Incumbent Carter loses to Republican Ronald Reagan. Republicans gain 10 seats, Democrats lose 10.
1984: Incumbent Reagan reelected. Republicans gain 23 seats, Democrats lose two. (Membership in the Legislature expands from 105 to 126).
1988: Incumbent GOP Vice President George H.W. Bush wins. Democrats pick up three seats, Republicans lose three.
1992: Incumbent Bush defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton. Republicans lose four seats, Democrats lose 17. (Membership returns to 105, down from 126).
1996: Incumbent Clinton wins. Republicans gain five, Democrats lose five.
2000: Incumbent Democratic Vice President Al Gore loses to Republican George W. Bush. Republicans gain four, Democrats lose four.
2004: Incumbent Republican Bush reelected. Republicans gain three seats, Democrats lose three.
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