The closed Idaho primary, and the money-go-round

There is nothing new about legislators pouring money into their colleagues’ re-election campaigns.

Nor is there anything new about industry PACs riding in like the cavalry to invest last-minute money in incumbent protection.

What is new, this year, is that there seems to be a little more of both going on.

The rift between House GOP leaders went public — for all to read — with this week’s release of the pre-primary campaign finance reports. House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star have given money to political action committees funding challengers to some sitting House Republicans — including a member of the House GOP leadership team, Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts of Donnelly.

The fourth member of the House GOP leadership team, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, has funneled money to some incumbents targeted by the Denney-Moyle faction — including Roberts and Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa.

The traditional industry PACs, meanwhile, have poured some big and late dollars into incumbents’ re-election campaigns. Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, came into the 2012 election year with $39,998 in her campaign kitty. But she has received another $6,000 since April 30, pushing her contributions past the $60,000 mark.

Locally, Lodge and incumbent Nampa GOP Sen. Curt McKenzie have each collected more than $50,000, largely from PACs, in a bid to hang onto a $16,116-a-year legislative job for two more years.

I suspect that the politicos and the PACs both sense opportunity — and peril — in Tuesday’s historic closed GOP primary.

No one knows for sure how this primary will play out, when Idahoans must declare their Republican allegiance in order to vote with Republicans. The conventional wisdom, though, holds that turnout will be even lower than in the days of the “open” primary. It took fewer than 3,000 votes to win most GOP primaries in the Treasure Valley in 2010, even in conservative districts. On Tuesday, the bar will be even lower, especially in crowded primaries with three or four candidates.

If it doesn’t take many votes to win a nomination, then it doesn’t take much money to influence the outcome. An incumbent lawmaker could get a lot of return on an investment in a primary — helping to elect a like-minded ally who might, perhaps, owe a favor when in-house legislative leadership elections come around.

Meanwhile, I suspect the PACs are worried about Tuesday’s primaries, because of their unpredictable nature. Yes, Lodge and McKenzie enjoy huge fundraising advantages — Lodge challenger Maurice Clements has raised $19,050, McKenzie foe Hubert Osborne has raised $12,928, and both are funding their campaigns largely with loans. But the PACs see Lodge and McKenzie as known quantities, so they’re leaving nothing to chance.

After Tuesday, we’ll all have a first sense of how a closed GOP primary really plays out. But we know this much: It hasn’t taken money out of the equation. Quite the contrary.

Get Twitter updates on my blog and column and Statesman editorials. Become a follower. You can also get updates on Facebook's Idaho Statesman Opinion Page.