Democrats from District 26 and beyond gathered virtually at the Blaine County Democrats’ annual Clint Stennett Social on Friday night, where they discussed the future of Idaho’s political landscape.

Guests at the virtual event included out-of-state speakers Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., as well as statewide leaders such as Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Fred Cornforth, former congressional candidate Rudy Soto and Gini Ballou, president of the Idaho Democratic Women’s Caucus.

The event also featured remarks by all three legislators from District 26: Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum—minority leader in the Idaho Senate and wife of the late Sen. Clint Stennett, for whom the event was named.

“Nationally, Democrats made great strides in the last election,” Merkley told eventgoers via Zoom call. “We have a president now laying out a very, very aggressive plan to put America back on track.”

Statewide Democratic leaders struck a different tone, praising Blaine County as a rare blue island in a largely Republican sea.

“You guys have been such a bright light in our state that has a few dark corners,” Cornforth said. “We appreciate so much the things that are happening in Blaine County.”

Ballou acknowledged that the political climate in Idaho can be “scary” for Democrats, noting that one recent Democratic award winner chose not to have her name announced publicly out of fear for her own safety.

Sen. Jeff Merkley

Sen. Jeff Merkley

But while Idaho remains for the most part red, Cornforth said, he sees reason for optimism in some historically conservative parts of the state—“areas of our state that I think we had written off or thought they were lost in the past”—such as Idaho Falls.

Soto, who lost the 2020 election for Idaho’s first congressional district to U.S. Rep Russ Fulcher last fall, said he was “disappointed” by the election results, though he was “under no illusions that we would just outright win.”

“But we’re persistent and we’re not going to give up,” he said. “We have nowhere to go but up.”

Davis, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2018, said she has seen the Republican-dominated body grow progressively “crazier” each year since she took office, but felt hopeful listening to the out-of-state and statewide guests speak.

“[All the speakers] helped inspire and motivate me and helped me see the positive and all the good things going on in our country,” she said. “We get so mired down in being a minority here in Idaho in the Statehouse, it was really good to see all of this.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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