This primary election will be the last where smear campaigns succeed

By Jim Jones
JJ Commontater

Jim JonesEver since the Republican Party decided to close its primary elections in 2011, we have witnessed increasingly nasty, truth-deprived GOP primary elections. The most extreme candidates learned that they could win by using ugly smear tactics against reasonable, pragmatic Republican opponents in the low-turnout GOP primary.

For instance, Senator Brian Lenney won his District 13 seat in the 2022 primary election with just 12.7% of registered voters. Senator Dan Foreman won his District 6 seat with only 8.8% of the vote. With the R behind their name, they then coasted to victory in the general election.

GOP smear campaigns will no longer be sure winners after Idaho voters approve the Open Primary Initiative in this year’s November election. Candidates will have to campaign on real issues, conduct themselves with civility and refrain from vicious campaign tactics in order to win in the general election.

This year, we are already seeing the kind of ugly campaigning that will continue to drive support for the initiative. The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) has laid the groundwork with its contrived “freedom index” scoring that portrays its culture warriors as virtual heroes, while making responsible Republicans, who want to do the hard work of addressing actual problems facing the state, look like big-spending villains.

Rory McShane - Founder of McShane LLC of Las Vegas, Nevada
Rory McShane – Founder of McShane LLC of Las Vegas, Nevada

Those narratives are picked up, amplified and injected into smear campaigns by unprincipled hired guns like McShane LLC, which operates out of Las Vegas. A prime example of McShane’s dirty work was its successful attack on Senator Jim Woodward in the 2022 primary election in District 1. Woodward honorably served his country as a Navy officer on a nuclear submarine, is a successful businessman and was a highly-regarded conservative Republican Senator. His opponent, Scott Herndon, employed McShane with financial support from IFF’s cronies and allies, to conduct a vile, but successful, campaign against Woodward.

McShane works in tandem with far-right groups and individuals that benefit from having friendly officials in positions of influence. The collective “money, consultants, PACs and messaging work like a machine to ensure a tiny group gets unqualified candidates elected who will remain loyal and vote for the self-serving interests of the collective group’s demands.”

According to the Secretary of State’s website, eleven candidates have used McShane’s services to the tune of more than $300,000 through March of this year. They include Scott Herndon and Cornel Rasor in District 1, Carl Bjerke in District 5, Christy Zito in District 8, Brandon Shippy and Jacyn Gallagher in District 9, Chris Trakel and Lucas Caylor in District 11, Jaron Crane in District 12, Barbara Ehardt in District 33 and Brett Skidmore in District 35. Past McShane customers include Brandon Durst, David Reilly and Wendy Horman.

Most of McShane’s candidates are enthusiastic supporters of school choice programs that seek to divert taxpayer funds into private and religious schooling. McShane will certainly pursue that theme in coming days and will have lots of support from a variety of dark money groups that abhor Idaho’s public school system.

The head of one such group, the American Federation for Children (AFC), recently said: “If you’re a candidate or lawmaker who opposes school choice and freedom in education – you’re a target.” Idaho Business for Education points out that AFC pledged to spend $10 million this year to defeat lawmakers across the country who oppose school vouchers. A good deal of that will likely be spent in Idaho to support McShane’s candidates and defeat supporters of Idaho’s public school system. It will get ugly.

Idahoans should brace themselves for this last scorched-earth Republican primary. It will once again demonstrate the folly of allowing a few party bosses to essentially dictate who gets elected to important public offices. With the Open Primaries Initiative, there will be better days where everyone can take part in choosing our leaders and setting the policy agenda. Idaho will still be a Republican state but, instead of being controlled by divisive culture warriors, we can return to civil and reasonable leadership.

And out-of-state political hit-men, like McShane, will be just an unpleasant memory.