Idaho has not always been overwhelmingly Republican

Candidates for president don’t usually spend much time campaigning in Idaho, and that’s understandable. The Republican party has earned all four of Idaho’s electoral votes for 14 presidential elections in a row. The Republican candidate usually gets about twice as many votes as the Democrat, and that’s not expected to change any time soon. But Idaho hasn’t always been overwhelmingly Republican. Fifteen elections ago, in 1964, incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson got more votes than Republican challenger Barry Goldwater. Five thousand more, in fact. Idahoans voted Democrat five times in a row from 1932 to 1948, four times for Franklin D. Roosevelt and once for Harry S. Truman. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won Idaho’s electors in 1912 and 1916, and Democrat William McKinley took Idaho in 1896 and 1900. So Idaho has voted for the Democratic candidate for president ten times. And in all ten of those elections, the Democrat was elected president. Idaho has never cast its votes for a Democrat who lost the electoral college vote to a Republican. But there was one Idaho election that qualifies as a little bit weird. Idaho’s candidate lost, and he wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat. It was Idaho’s very first election as a full-blown state of the union. In 1892, Republican Benjamin Harrison was the incumbent running to keep his office. His Democratic opponent was Grover Cleveland, who had already served as the country’s 22nd president from 1885 to 1889 and was running to be the first American president to serve non-consecutive terms. Cleveland, as you probably know from history, won that election and is now considered officially our 22nd and 24th presidents. But in 1892, Grover Cleveland was unpopular in Idaho. And so was Benjamin Harrison. In its third year as a state, Idaho was populated by a lot of miners and farmers. Northern Idaho, the location of most of the successful mining operations, usually voted Republican, but miners were unhappy with Republican Governor Norman Bushnell Willey, who had declared martial law upon miners on strike. The sentiment was that a vote for Harrison was a vote for Willey. But Idaho miners also didn’t like Cleveland, who was a proponent of the national gold standard. Idaho mined mostly silver, and the owners of the silver mines stood to lose money if the nation adopted a straight gold standard, rather than bimetallism, in which the standard is both gold and silver. The gold standard was de facto in the United States, meaning it was more-or-less in practice, but it was not de jure, or under government authority. The Democrats, realizing this, decided that canceling out Idaho’s three electoral votes was just as good as securing them for Cleveland and would be much easier. They were right. The Democrats didn’t register Cleveland’s name as a candidate in Idaho and instead backed the Populist Party candidate, James B. Weaver of Iowa. The farmers were sympathetic to the cause of the miners, and Idaho cast its electoral votes in its first election for Weaver. In total, Cleveland won 22 states and 277 electoral votes, Harrison took 16 states and 145 electoral votes, and Idaho’s favorite, Weaver, took five silver-mining states and 22 electoral votes and finished third.