OPINION: CHUCK MALLOY: Jordan in spotlight — just not in Idaho’s

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Kyung Lah, a senior national correspondent with CNN who recently talked to me about the Idaho governor’s race, has worked on countless political campaign stories during her career.

But she recently came across something she hasn’t seen: A candidate who declined an offer for national exposure on the news network.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the prohibitive favorite to win Idaho’s gubernatorial race, apparently didn’t want any part of it.

“When it’s a one-on-one campaign, the other candidate has always been willing to talk,” she said. “I’ve never repeatedly chased a campaign for days and been rejected on a simple candidate story.”

These spots essentially amount to free advertising for candidates who agree to appear, unless a candidate is embroiled in controversy — which Little is not.

I’ve come across a “first” of my own in recent weeks, trying to get a conversation with Little’s Democratic opponent, state Rep. Paulette Jordan. I’ve been sending interview requests for the good part of two months, only to run into brick walls with the campaign staff. But she was readily available when CNN made the call recently, and she showed off some of her horse riding skills.

Jordan is getting national attention for good reason. She could become the first Native American woman to win a governorship in any state. She received a fair amount of national attention during the Democratic primary campaign, and stands to get even more before the November election.

A campaign staffer says that Jordan gets “hundreds” of interview requests, and it’s hard to keep track of them. If that’s the case, they must be coming from outside the state. There are not “hundreds” of political stories floating around the Gem State during the dog days of summer, or “hundreds” of Idaho reporters chasing down candidates.

At least for now, Idaho reporters who want to interview Jordan are pushed to the back of the line. It’s not a bad communications strategy… if she were running for president of the United States and scrambling for electoral votes. But it’s not a smart call for somebody running for governor of Idaho.

Little, by contrast, has no interest in the national spotlight, but he’s one of the most accessible politicians I’ve known over the last 30-plus years writing this stuff. I’ve been able to arrange for conversations with Little promptly, either in person or by phone, and he does these interviews without an army of staffers lurking. In Little’s world, apparently, that’s the way Idahoans are supposed to handle things — even from the highest levels of state government.

But Jordan, who captured the hearts of rank-and-file Democrats in the May primary, is a formidable and intriguing candidate. As she told Lah in the CNN interview, she expects to get generous support from independents and some boost from Idaho Freedom Foundation-type conservatives who view Little as being “too liberal,” and a clone of Gov. Butch Otter.

Jordan has strong qualities. She’s well educated, relates well to a crowd and is 38 years old — which in itself is a refreshing change from the crusty old men who hold most of the top political offices in Idaho. But I’m not sure where she’ll get enough votes to win. Idaho does not appear to be on the cusp of going from Republican “red” to Democratic “blue” — especially in the Idaho Panhandle, Eastern Idaho, the Magic Valley and Canyon County. Folks in rural Idaho — where people tend to vote in high numbers — would vote Republican if Putin were the party’s nominee.

But to Jordan’s credit, she’s creating a buzz with Democrats that I haven’t seen in a long time, which sets the stage for a spirited campaign.

I don’t suspect we will hear the last of Jordan, regardless of the outcome in this governor’s race. If she wins, she’ll make history; if she loses, she could be setting up herself for a nice career outside of politics.

You’d think that all the national exposure she’s getting will pay off in some way.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.

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