Ted Cruz surged to a decisive victory in Idaho’s GOP primary, beating chief rival Donald Trump and denying the New York businessman a third Tuesday win on support from Idaho’s true-blue conservatives.
The Texas senator led with more than 45 percent of the vote, 17 percentage points ahead of Trump and more than double what Florida Sen. Marco Rubio got. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was in single digits. In Ada County, Cruz’s lead over Trump was narrower, at 10 points, with Rubio and Kasich well behind. Cruz led Trump by 16 points in Canyon County, with Rubio and Kasich even farther back.
“Ted Cruz represents the values of most Idahoans, particularly in a Republican primary,” State Treasurer Ron Crane, Cruz’s Idaho campaign chairman, said shortly after networks began calling the race for Cruz. “His message resonates with Idahoans.”
Trump’s support had been at 30 percent or higher in Idaho since December, and he had led all candidates since September, according to polling by Dan Jones & Associates for the news site Idaho Politics Weekly. The most recent survey put him at 30 percent, but that poll was conducted at the end of February, before last week’s rebuke by 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
The polling confounded state party leaders, who were seeing and hearing a much different message in conversations with rank-and-file Republicans and in visits to the many Lincoln Day events the party holds between February and April.
“All of the anecdotal evidence I was picking up around the state was suggesting that Cruz was surging,” state GOP Chairman Stephen Yates said. “There’s this polling that says Donald Trump has a large lead and it was just inconsistent with everything I was hearing.”
In a four-way race, Yates said, “it’s frankly very impressive that we had a candidate get above the 40 percent threshold.”
Yates said party officials will determine the final allocation of delegates Wednesday. With a vote threshold of 20 percent required, only Cruz and Trump will receive them.
Turnout appeared to surpass low pre-election predictions, ending up in the high 20s. Official figures will come later this week.
More than Romney’s attack, Crane said, Cruz’s weekend visit to the state “played a key role, and the timing of that visit was strategic.” Cruz drew a big crowd in Coeur d’Alene and the response prompted him to come to Boise on six hours’ notice.
Trump, with the consistent lead since September, did not visit.
“Campaigns matter, and Mr. Trump wasn’t able to come to Idaho,” said Rod Beck, Trump’s Idaho chairman. “The doctrinaire conservatives in Idaho, of which there are a lot, broke for Cruz, no question about it.”
Idaho’s primary came two months earlier this year following a change approved in 2015. Only Republicans and the Constitution Party opted for the early date and the primary format. Idaho Democrats will caucus on March 22. Despite interest in the national race, turnout was light because of the early date and the small ballot, officials said.
Kasich, who ran with the late endorsement of his fellow governor, Butch Otter, and also was endorsed by the Statesman’s editorial board, seemed to have conceded the state, his only Idaho visit coming in January 2015.
Rubio made three trips to Idaho, the first in April and the second in June, when he addressed the summer meeting of the Idaho GOP. He barnstormed a two-stop visit Sunday to Idaho Falls and Boise, drawing 2,500 to an airport hangar here on a Sunday night.
Rubio didn’t wow Idahoans, despite the support of Sen. Jim Risch and Controller Brandon Woolf, and despite his polished and measured delivery. In his weekend remarks in Idaho, he avoided direct attacks on his primary opponents and saved his barbs for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In his only state visit, Cruz enjoyed enthusiastic welcomes from big crowds. Hundreds of people attended his event in Boise. The Texas senator’s tough talk about public land use and promises to safeguard religious freedom and gun rights, abolish the IRS, shrink government and repeal the Affordable Care Act resonated in Idaho.
Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, Idaho Statesman
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