BOISE, ID—On paper, Paulette Jordan is the kind of candidate Native peoples dreamt of a generation ago.

Or they would have if they, and every preceding generation of Native Americans, had not rightfully seen the United States government as their violent oppressor.

But now, after tribes spent decades methodically building their governments to work adjacently to the towering American machine, Native Americans have reached an historic moment of potential representation within that machine. There are 138 Native candidates running for office in the midterm elections; the majority of those candidates are women. Jordan joins candidates like Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland—women who, like her, have been at work within their tribal communities for years and are finally seeing a glimmer of opportunity in national American politics.

If elected, Jordan, a member of the Coeur D’Alene, would be the first Native American governor in United States history. The context of what this means for Idaho, and her place in the larger wave of Native women candidates, is one Jordan speaks to well. It came up within the first five minutes as we sat in her campaign office in downtown Boise on a recent sunny Friday afternoon.

We are not far from the days of Indigenous peoples not being allowed to vote or participate in mainstream American society—or, even worse, when they had that society savagely imposed upon them. After sharing our tribal stories with each other, I asked her about the longstanding discouragement embedded in Native voters, both in the past and the present.

Jordan closed her eyes and nodded her head. She ran through the horror story every Native person in this country understands—“genocide or termination and stolen land, even the theft of our children”—but she stopped herself before diving into the diatribe against federal policies I’ve heard from conservative and Native friends and family my whole life. Instead, she smiled and pivoted.

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“At this point, we come to a place where I’ve been instilled with the lessons where my elders have said, in order for us to make change and make a difference, we not only have to understand others, but have to really, in this sense, put ourselves in each other’s shoes and work together to ensure that we’re rising above everything,” Jordan said.

“Tribes are often perceived as very separate than and separate to everything else [in politics],” she continued. “But they’re more about inclusivity and building a bigger community than anything else. It’s not really about power for tribes but that we’re continuing to be responsible stewards, that we’re accountable to each other. When it comes to government, it’s the same mannerisms. While [Idaho Natives] hold and promote individuality and independence and protect the environment and lands, they’re also saying we want the best for our future, we want the best for everybody.”

Jordan’s quasi-populist message and her Idahoan groundings—she was raised on a farm on the Coeur D’Alene reservation in northern Idaho; she rides a horse; she shoots guns—have clearly resonated within Idaho’s relatively tiny Democratic Party. In May, she won her primary over 72-year-old A.J. Balukoff, a centrist establishment candidate, by an 18-point margin, and she did so without any backing from her fellow Democrats in the legislature.

Jordan is a talented, impressive candidate, able to work the crowd and engage with a small audience while accentuating her policy points and long history in her home state. She talks about putting the power back in the hands of the people, of empowering the poor, of taking five steps forward on social issues relative to Idaho’s current climate. As a Native citizen with progressive ideals, I naturally warmed to her during my weekend trailing her, and it was hard not to catch the sense of hopefulness and inspiration that Idahoans from across the state expressed about her candidacy.

It’s that potential that makes it so sobering that she is fighting a very uphill battle to win her race against Idaho’s lieutenant governor, Brad Little.

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Jordan’s chances were always going to be slim—the Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans 4:1 in registered Idaho voters, and that’s not including 7,000 registered Libertarians—but the outcome wasn’t always inevitable. While she’s excited a progressive base both young and old, ongoing issues within her campaign have limited her ability to complete the necessary and sometimes basic tasks required to overcome such odds and pull in both nonvoters and longstanding Republican voters who register as unaffiliated. The obvious excuses are well known, but then there’s the harder one, where a long look at the way this campaign was run brings the whole picture into focus.

Jordan could prove everyone wrong, and pull off an astonishing victory—or she could come up short. History is made all the time. But only some people get to be the ones who make it.

As Red as Red Gets

Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

“I am a Republican.”

Brad Little was itching to spit the words out when his time came to answer the 11th question of his first debate against Jordan inside the sprawling Riverside Hotel. It was Saturday, the day after I’d first interviewed Jordan.

The question Little was answering—on the changing tides of Idaho politics—was a softball, as were most of the other questions lobbed at the two candidates over the course of their hour-long back-and-forth. But fleeting moments like that were where you could see what Jordan is really up against. Little’s retort, and the smile the 64-year-old started to crack when he was listening to Jordan’s answer, was steeped in the fact that he and thousands of others equate the words “Republican” and “conservative” with “Idaho.”

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Idaho is currently one of the 26 states boasting a Republican trifecta (both chambers of the legislature and the governorship), one that’s been in place since 1995. The current legislature is controlled by a conservative supermajority in the House and Senate, resulting in Idaho staying firmly situated in the last century on virtually every social cause imaginable. As Jaclyn Kettler, an assistant professor at Boise State who specializes in state and local politics, explained to me, all the usual in-fighting of interest in Idaho is found within these ranks.

Most recently, this was displayed during the May Republican primary, which pitted Little against U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, one of the most extreme candidates in Idaho. In attempting to contrast himself from the far-right image embraced by Labrador, Little sprinted to the middle, adopting the issue of education and nabbing the endorsement of the Idaho Educators Association, while still standing firmly against marijuana legalization and abortion.

The worry that Labrador would claim the governorship loomed large for civically minded progressives. Madeleine Banta, a Boise State undergraduate education major and unaffiliated voter I spoke with in a Boise coffee shop, told me she registered as Republican just to vote for Little over Labrador; Kettler told me she had heard of others in Boise doing the same. The underlying political assumption behind that choice—that the most important thing to do was shape the Republican field—is very telling.

JoAnn Miracle, a 58-year-old Boise resident who works for a company that makes the tags used to track fish, backed up this sentiment when we spoke in the hotel hallway following Saturday’s debate. There was a trembling excitement in her voice as she told me that, had Labrador won the nomination, she wouldn’t have had to go to Saturday’s debate, that it would have been “like Trump and Hillary,” that Labrador was just “too crazy.”

Little’s not-crazy status, in addition to his talking points on education and public access to Idaho’s sprawling natural beauty—a major issue with private corporations scooping up massive tracts of the state’s untouched land and closing off public access roads—made her consider the race more closely.

“Little’s family—I hike and bike on lands he’s given access to, and he brings his sheep across,” Miracle said. “I grew up in a farming community so that’s kind of cool for me.”

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And therein lies the Little issue. Jordan is not running against someone that can be categorized as extreme, but instead against a relatively moderate Republican. This reality has manifested itself in Jordan’s campaign. Just as Little ran to the middle to beat Labrador, Jordan finds herself sliding that way as well.

In July, at a meet-and-greet event at a Twin Falls coffee shop, she labeled herself a “progressive-conservative,” pledging to cut taxes for the working class while putting control of local government in the people’s hands. During a September interview with the Shoshone News-Press, she said she preferred the government “staying out of my life.” At the debate I attended, she claimed she was personally pro-life but said she would be a pro-choice governor because it was more in line with her “libertarian” ideals. In their second debate, Jordan said the words, “ICE actually does a good job.”

Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

When I spoke with Jordan, I said that some of what she described as conservative policies often seemed to still be liberal in both nature and effect. One policy point she stressed during our conversation was dropping state and local taxes on Idahoans making under $7,000, with the point being that cutting taxes served as proof of her conservatism. But then the following day at the debate, she slammed Little for being a “corporatist,” a lead-in to an opportunity to push a clearly Democratic policy proposal of taxing the wealthy and corporations at a higher rate than the working and middle class.

“Fiscal conservatism, to me, is where I see myself really apply. But socially, no,” she said. “The average Republican will use these ploys and say we’re cutting taxes but really they’re cutting taxes for corporations and not the few. Me, I’m cutting taxes for the working poor...I’m clearly a progressive Idahoan. But I’ve learned that when it comes to California and New York, they’re far more liberal in their politics, as an Idahoan would be more on the conservative side and it’s still Democratic politics. Idaho’s very unique.”

To her credit, she holds the conservative line well—in interviews, small rooms, and when she’s staring down the current lieutenant governor. Maybe not because it’s what she always believes, but because it’s what’s required here.

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Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

In a place as lily white as Idaho, identity politics will only carry you so far.

The party registration gap aside, Jordan doesn’t have much help by the way of a potential Native voting bloc. Unlike states like Arizona, Alaska, and the Dakotas, the Native vote doesn’t go quite as far in Idaho: Roughly 28,000 Native Americans, or just 1.7 percent of the total population, live there; 82 percent of the population is white. This limits how much the “first Native” line can help Jordan at the polls; there also hasn’t been much play by the campaign about the fact that she would be Idaho’s first female governor, something she openly talked about in our interview.

“I have this conversation almost every other day,” she said. “It’s not about man or woman, it’s about who is going to be a better leader. In this case, in this race, [voters] have a man and a woman. But at the same time, they have someone who’s a corporatist and then they have someone who’s of the people.

“We’re talking about clean energy. We’re talking about de-carbonizing the state of Idaho. Protecting education. Decriminalization [of marijuana] and reforming our prison system. Rehabilitation programs, mental health stabilization programs. These are conversations you never hear about in [Idaho] politics. People bring up more so what they hear in the rhetoric, kind of the played-out, tried-and-true can messages: Cut taxes, defend guns, take away women’s rights. These are the ploys that people often get drawn to out of their rage and anger and thinking this is actually happening, when in fact it’s the opposite.”

Then there’s the gap between what Jordan is promising and the political environment she’d likely face if she won. Barring a surprising turn at the polls, down-ballot races aren’t likely to result in any major shifts in the legislature, regardless of who sits in the governor’s chair. This means that one of Jordan’s most powerful weapons, the veto, could be overridden if the Republicans in the House and Senate coalesced against her. While she tries to cover this gap by pointing to a far-right state legislator like the Confederate flag-waving Heather Scott as a “friend,” the three bills she sponsored as a Democratic House legislator all failed.

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When I asked Jordan about the limited power she would have as the chief executive of her home state, she admitted that it would be an uphill battle. She then pointed to various outlets she could use, naming the Democratic Governor’s Association and National Governor’s Association as two bodies that would help her find her footing, and noting the “direct line with the president” as another potential source of external influence. (We didn’t talk much about who would be on the other side of that phone call.)

“That helps us to have an ability to be a little more prominent in giving a voice to those who are voiceless,” Jordan said. “To ensure that even [Native Democratic politicians in Idaho], who are a minority within a minority, are able to stand at the forefront.”

The “R” next to Little’s name does basically half the work for him, and overcoming that requires a lot of face time with Idaho voters. That’s why Jordan hung around for 30 minutes after their first debate while Little ducked out after just 15, shaking hands with an older woman sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat before he hit the exit.

It was in her interactions with her would-be constituents that the palpable excitement around her campaign that other national outlets have been quick to fawn over could be felt the most.

With the room to herself, Jordan visited with a line of undecided voters like Mike, a 30-something undecided voter with a gnarly chest tattoo. Mike told me he was impressed by Jordan’s use of the term “Little-Otter” throughout the debate—an attempt to tie Little to unpopular three-term governor Butch Otter.

Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

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“I thought it was pretty clever,” Mike said. “She did a good job of talking about progression and the growth of our state and where it’s going. We do need to have that vision and act on it, not just have a plan and try to get to going but really just getting the ball rolling fast.”

Mike then pointed out the obvious but necessary truth of Idaho politics.

“Boise is a lot different than the rest of the state. Growing up in a town, and I go back to visit it,” he said. “It’s a small rural town in Idaho and it’s poverty stricken...Boise, we’re a nice little island, making a decent wage relative to the cost of living. Then you go into those other towns and you wonder how these people are living on $15,000 to $20,000 a year.... There’s just not a whole lot of programs in those rural areas to help them grow, or the influence to help them want to grow and change.”

Convincing people like the ones Mike was talking about to buck their party of choice, even for Jordan, is a tall order. As Kettler pointed out to me, Idaho doesn’t have much reliable polling; keeping that in mind, Little has led by at least eight points in every public poll thus far. Jordan told me she understands the mountain she has to climb but is confident that her team has a plan to help her get there—she says “when,” not “if,” as she discusses claiming the governor’s chair. If you let her, she’ll convince you, and anyone else that’ll listen, that the impossible might happen.

Getting to that chair, though, can sometimes require you to stop at new, unfamiliar, and maybe even uncomfortable places.

From the Rooftop to the Sanctuary

Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

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The home of Scott Jordan (no relation to Paulette) in Ketchum, ID, is, in a word, insane.

Hours after debating Little, the Jordan campaign made its way to Ketchum, a beautiful town nestled in the Wood River Valley. Like Boise, the Wood River Valley is among Idaho’s few Democratic havens. It was here that Jordan’s team traveled to take in the Trailing of the Sheep, an annual festival where roughly 250 sheep are herded down Main Street. But before that, they had to go to the party at Scott’s house.

Scott’s domain rests in a rooftop apartment perched on 6th Street, two floors above a garage containing a pair of polished cars that likely cost more than the combined price of every house I’ve ever lived in. When I first walked in, I felt like I had stepped into another world. People weren’t decked out in tuxedos and ball gowns, but they certainly weren’t wearing Banana Republic, either.

There was a full catering staff working the kitchen and the floor, with waiters walking around with anything and everything that could be stabbed with a toothpick. There was a dessert table with take-home boxes and every kind of delectable treat imaginable, including perfectly dipped candy apples. There were two open bars—one tucked away toward the back of the apartment, where a spiral staircase led to the roof, and another outside on the patio, which was outfitted with at least four of those looming space heaters (it had started to lightly snow in Ketchum).

Again, this was all inside one sprawling apartment floor.

Scott, the founder of Idaho-based apparel company SCOTTeVEST, was sitting on a spotless white sectional. College football was playing on the television, but Scott was a bit busy talking to one of the five dogs (goldendoodles, I think; purebred for sure) roaming the apartment alongside at least 50 guests. Sitting near the middle of the apartment, by the kitchen, a fireplace jutted out into the walking space. Sitting on top of the fireplace was a rotating video monitor that displayed nothing but professional photos of Scott and his dogs. There were dozens of pictures, from every season and against an alarming variety of backdrops.

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Nobody here, including Scott, was interested in chatting about Jordan—not on the record, anyway—but suffice it to say this was a staunchly Democratic shindig.

Jordan’s crew points to the fact that she has nearly 12,000 donors whose average support comes in around $40—not the lowest rate ever, but certainly nowhere near the likes of corporate-loving Democrats like Andrew Cuomo. But trying to win a state like Idaho, let alone be the first anything there, does require a little bit of schmoozing.

The Jordan team was very adamant that this was not a campaign event (that came the following afternoon, when Jordan returned to Scott’s home for an official fundraiser that included a town hall meeting). Instead, this was a party, an annual soiree that Scott throws every year for his buddies in the valley, and one he thought Jordan and her crew (and myself, apparently) should come along to as a way to say congratulations for her work on the trail.

After I had been there about 20 minutes, a small commotion came from the entrance and in strode Jordan, sporting a camouflage-inspired jacket speckled with different hues of pink and orange and black. “There’s our superstar,” Scott exclaimed, as he hustled over to her side. Jordan and I only had the chance to say hello and goodbye; her time was spent mingling among the throng of supporters with deep, designer pockets. Scott went around introducing her to different folks, with campaign consultant Gayraud Townsend by her side every time I glanced their way. As a former finance chair for the National Indian Gaming Association, this scene isn’t necessarily new to Jordan, but it’s clearly not one she was born into.

After the party, I made my way downstairs, where I chatted up one of the staff who’d been stationed on the ground floor, by the garage, with several layers and a thick black jacket my sweater-wearing, bone-chilled self envied dearly. She didn’t want to share her name for this piece, but she told me she saw the election as an attempt to choose between “evil and good,” the “good” being Jordan in this case.

But, she added, she wasn’t sure if “good” was going to win, at least this time around.

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Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

“Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’”

The message was Mark 10:17-31, the place was St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum, and the hour was far earlier than I’d woken up on a Sunday in a long time, especially after a party like the one the night before. The crowd skewed toward the older side; as far as I could tell, the people of color present were Jordan, myself, and a Cherokee documentarian from LA who was following Jordan’s team around.

“I don’t think Jesus wants us to give up what we hold most dear unless what we hold most dear is more important to us than God,” Rev. Wayne Schmidt, who was leading the service, said.

Toward the end of the service, the reverend took a moment to point out the origins of the Trailing of the Sheep, specifically rector Rev. Kenneth Brannon’s role. As the sheep barrel down Ketchum’s Main Street, he stands in the middle, hand raised, blessing each one as they stampede around him. The act is one with roots in local Native customs, whereupon a member of the tribe was responsible for blessing the souls of the animals the land provided for nourishment.

After the service concluded, we shuffled downstairs to the parish hall, where everyone enjoyed the coffee and cookies laid out by the church staff. A little girl, no more than six, crawled about on the floor, outfitted in a puffy, white wool sweater, baah-ing at anyone who cast a glance her way.

There was light chitchat as the adults craned their necks or peeked up from their brownie to see who this bronze-skinned woman drawing the crowd was. Jordan was busy shaking hands and accepting promises of future campaign donations and votes, but we were able to grab a second alone; I brought up last night’s party and the morning’s lesson and asked how one reconciles the two. She took a quiet breath.

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“We have to be willing to give it all up,” she told me. “It’s important not to find ourselves over-relying on the material world.” Jordan then leaned in and confided that “last night was different” for her, but added that she was appreciative of Scott and his friends for allowing them to stop by.

The campaign team then hurried out of the parish hall—the Trailing of the Sheep was about to get started.

Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

The Trailing featured groups of bagpipe players and dancers, old and young, who paraded past our spot at the corner of Main and Sixth Street. Then, the sheep came into view. They stretched back for at least 30 yards, filling every inch of the street.

When the herd approached Rev. Brannon, I felt myself tense up, only to feel the tension release in a moment of natural wonder, as every sheep flowed around him in perfect formation. Just as quickly as they had filled the town’s street and attention, they were gone, off to cross the bridge and make their way to Hailey.

The rest of the day, I followed Jordan through the streets and shops of Ketchum, where the blue streak of the valley made its presence known within minutes. Multiple families and individuals approached her. One woman cried out, “I hope you win!” Another shouted, “I’m going to donate some more later!” Another walked right up to her and shook her hand, telling Jordan, “Best of luck!”

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Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

At one point, three generations of Ketchum women—daughter, mother, and grandmother—approached her, every one of them beaming as they poured their hearts out to the woman in front of them.

In a thrift store sat a woman named Mary, who said she was an “adopted Cherokee” from Texas. She told Jordan that she was “glad you’re running.”

“Walk in beauty, as the Navajo say,” Mary softly sighed, arm reached out, as we walked out of the store.

The Mountains To Climb

Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

The sheep, the church, the donors, the debate—these were all items of good news for Jordan and her team. But it may not matter.

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Bernie Sanders won the 2016 Democratic caucus in Idaho by a landslide, claiming 78 percent of the vote. Lewis County, the only county Sanders didn’t claim over Hillary Clinton, was lost by a single vote. For a more progressive candidate that crushed her centrist primary opponent, this would seem to be good news.

But when Sanders claimed the state so confidently, he did so with just 18,640 votes. There were 222,213 total votes cast in the Republican caucus, which Ted Cruz won. That is, there were 10 times as many voters participating in the Republican Party primary as there were in the Democratic Party’s. The rest of the numbers don’t bode well for Jordan. As of Oct. 1, Idaho had 99,104 registered Democrats, 427,298 registered Republicans, and 291,138 registered Unaffiliated. In 2014, just 439,830 voters filled out a ballot for the governor’s race, and Balukoff was crushed by 15 points.

To every Idahoan and political source outside Jordan’s staff and volunteer base I spoke to, numbers like those aren’t just tough to surmount—they’re a lock for defeat.

Jordan hasn’t been helped by continued instability among her top staff. Internal strife has plagued her campaign for months, and more than that, the morphing leadership teams she’s surrounded herself throughout the process have been defined by inexperience at a statewide level. According to sources close to Jordan’s camp, this has resulted in too few hours being logged making donation phone calls (a task Jordan reportedly doesn’t enjoy doing) and high expenditures on food and travel, which have been covered heavily by the local press.

Campaign turnover isn’t exactly unique to Jordan’s campaign; it’s what’s caused the turnover that’s had the Idaho press salivating.

In the weeks before the primary, Jordan’s deputy campaign manager, Emily Mowrer, suddenly resigned, along with field director Jennifer Martinez. This was followed in September by the resignation of campaign manager Michael Rosenow. Rosenow’s resignation was tied to the creation of a Super PAC called Strength & Progress, with Rosenow claiming the campaign was overly focused on the PAC and not the race at hand. While PACs and campaigns are by nature, and law, supposed to be coordinated separately, internal emails, initially obtained by the Idaho Statesman and recently reviewed by Splinter, show Rosenow’s successor, Nate Kelly, referring to Strength & Progress as “Rep. Paulette Jordan’s political action committee (“PAC”).”

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Kelly, who is 35, is the prototypical D.C. politico—born in a plushy D.C. suburb, graduated from Chevy Chase High School, went to Maryland and then USC Law, worked for a large law firm, and then opened his own firm. He specialized in corporate finance, particularly for Silicon Valley companies. When we spoke during the sheep festival, he also told me he knew a ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton and that a friend of a friend was in Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s wedding party. Kelly said he crossed paths with Jordan through Townsend—a fellow former D.C. suburbanite, Cornell grad, and former Ithaca city councilor—and that he joined the campaign in April as a senior consultant before being promoted in September.

Kelly, who has never run a gubernatorial campaign before, blamed the recent turnover on Rosenow’s inexperience outside of his initial role as a field director. Kelly said claims that the campaign was focused more on raising money and paying for campaign expenses through a Wyoming-based slush fund—one that shares an office building with the Strength & Progress PAC—are false. He claimed that Rosenow’s departure was an internal decision. In my sit-down with Jordan, she categorized Rosenow and the others criticizing the PAC as “disgruntled employees trying to save themselves.”

“As tribes, as Indigenous peoples, [Strength & Progress is] a way to grow more candidates. And if you expect more indigenous women and men to step up in these ranks, they need backing and financial support,” Jordan said. “So that was really the purpose of the Strength and Progress PAC that they’ve invested into, but there’s no way that any of those dollars can come to my campaign because they’re for federal [races]. And that was the lie that was played out.”

When reached by phone, Rosenow offered the following statement on the record, citing an nondisclosure agreement he and other staffers were forced to sign as the reason he couldn’t say more:

I do hope Paulette wins and altogether it just didn’t work out between their campaign and me. I wish them all the best and I think they have a good chance to beat Brad Little and make some change in Idaho and I think she’s a far better candidate than Little is.

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When I asked Kettler about the Super PAC snafu, she admitted to me, “that’s not the type of thing most voters care about that much.” But, when I asked about the ongoing issues that accompany a campaign staff rife with inexperience and people from out of state—the lack of television and radio ads on Idaho airwaves, the turnover, the high expenditures, and avoidable bad press—she sighed.

“[Jordan] brings some exciting qualities and policies,” Kettler said. “There’s energy to capitalize on; it’s just not clear if her campaign has been able to do that yet.”


Photo: Dorian Geiger (Splinter)

If there is anything to remember, let it be this: Jordan is more than the firsts that might come before her name.

Put simply, she is the real deal. She is a flawed and undoubtedly inspiring candidate running in a state so blood red that I had people in the liberal hub of Boise laugh when I asked whether she had a chance. She’s a woman who had a grown man, one of her volunteers, break down in tears when talking about what the campaign meant to him on Sunday. Watching her work a room, speaking with her one-on-one, it’s clear the natural talent is there.

For older Idahoans like JoAnn Miracle, Jordan seems like a breath of fresh air. A self-described cynic who’s always been politically interested but never active—she says she can’t watch debates at home “because my husband yells at the TV, he says ‘Bullshit!’”—Miracle told told me after Jordan’s first debate that she felt different from her Democratic predecessors, in ways good and bad for the political reality Idaho finds itself in.

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“What Paulette brought was new ideas, some new thinking, some things outside the box. Things that, in my head, make me go, ‘Wow, [for] some of the people, that’s just not going to fly,’” Miracle said. “Her presentation maybe is a little rough.... You also have to think about going into a legislature where she’s going to be a minority [party leader], how does she deal with other people and how does she bring camaraderie into that environment.”

The matter of Jordan’s innate talent for connecting with the people, her people, was never a question; the question, as I discovered, was one of timing, execution, and being realistic in your desire to make history.

Banta and Zoe Mendez, the two Boise State students I spoke with on Friday, were quick to point out that Jordan isn’t a perfect candidate. Nor is her team optimally suited for the task at hand—they cited an incident when Townsend was booed off stage during a rally against the family separation border policy, shouting, “I want to hear Paulette Jordan speak!” But Banta admitted that “on paper” Jordan is “amazing,” and they both said she has their vote come Nov. 6.

Perfection isn’t what they’re looking for. They just want a positive, progressive change to reflect the state that Idaho is becoming. And that is where the cynicism turns into something more hopeful.

“It is a little bit of a mini-revolution,” Mendez said. “I don’t think she has a shot but I think she can get a lot more votes than people think she will.”

Jordan might not win come next Tuesday. But despite this reality, and despite the shortcomings found in her campaign, this is what Jordan can be for Idaho: someone who reminds the ideological minority in a historically red state that they are, like her, a force that can be heard in even the highest levels of their government—and that one day, they just might take it over.

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CORRECTION, 8:07 P.M. EST: This post has been updated to properly reflect the location of Ketchum, ID. It is located in the Wood River Valley, not the Sun Valley.

Halfway to Hell is Gizmodo Media’s project covering the 2018 midterms; you can read coverage from across our network here and subscribe to our weekly newsletter roundup here.