On Election Day, thousands of Meridian residents voted for a candidate who did not appear to put up signs, participate in council candidate forums or do interviews with the press. Hunter Wolf spent so little money he didn’t even file a campaign finance report in his run for Meridian City Council seat 2.
Wolf was endorsed by ConservativesOf: Meridian, a local sect of an Eagle-based super PAC. His bio on their website is blank, and there is no photo of him. Incumbent candidates for Meridian City Council Luke Cavener, Joe Borton, and Treg Bernt said they don’t know Wolf and have never met him.
Regardless, Wolf garnered over 40% of the vote on Tuesday, which is a lot for someone without much of a campaign infrastructure, said Jeff Lyons, associate professor in the Boise State University School of Public Service. The election could be a referendum on the incumbent, Lyons said, and having the support of an outside group like a PAC is also helpful.
“Their strategy of packaging a group of people together makes sense,” Lyons said. “You’re helping voters understand what are otherwise kind of complicated elections.”
Desire for change
Cavener felt similarly, attributing the results to a desire for change on city council and the presentation of the three challengers as a slate of candidates.
“That was really surprising to me,” Cavener said. “The fact that someone who appeared to not campaign at all, to pull such a significant number shows I think that there are some people that were looking for … a change in the city council.”
The results weren’t necessarily surprising to Wolf’s opponent for seat 2, Borton, who said Wolf was promoted by ConservativesOf: Meridian.
Wolf did not return an email or phone call seeking comment for this story. No one answered the door when Idaho Press staff went to the listed address of his residence.
That has been the norm throughout election season, however, as repeated attempts by the Idaho Press to contact Wolf were unsuccessful.
BoiseDev connected with Wolf by phone once early in the campaign season, but he asked to put us on hold. He put the phone down, and did not return for several minutes. He later reached out and told us to text him, but he never responded.
Additionally, Wolf did not appear to attend a meet and greet in October at Harvest Church, sponsored by ConservativesOf: Meridian and Protect 43. The event said all three candidates would attend, yet photos of the event show three people on stage — seat 6 candidate Mike Hon, seat 4 candidate Adam Nelson and a woman.
Wolf was also invited to two candidate forums, but did not take part.
City of Meridian staff reached out to Wolf via phone and email to invite him to a City Council Candidate Forum hosted by the Meridian Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, said David Miles, mayor’s office chief of staff. Wolf only responded via phone, Miles said, and initially declined the invitation due to a medical issue. After he was offered the opportunity to participate virtually, Wolf said he would be celebrating his birthday, according to Miles.
Wolf was also invited to the Meridian Chamber of Commerce forum. Meridian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sean Evans said Wolf noted he would be out of town on a proposed date, however. The Meridian Chamber ultimately settled on a different date and Wolf accepted, Evans said, but at the last minute Wolf reached out to say something came up and he would not be able to make it.
“I really don’t know anything about the candidate,” Evans said. “We looked for campaign materials and things like that … We couldn’t find anything on positions … He was one of the only ones, I don’t even know what his full-time job was.”
Large vote total
An annual report for Dish Removals LLC filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office lists Hunter Wolf as registered agent of the limited liability company. Wolf and the company are listed with a Meridian address.
Despite the lack of campaigning, Wolf still pulled in over 5,000 votes. Data on local elections is scant, said Markie McBrayer, assistant professor of political science at the University of Idaho.
But nationally, while campaigns can affect election outcomes their effects are “quite marginal,” McBrayer said.
The better predictor of elections are economic factors such as unemployment and real income, among other factors.
For example, in a local election, voters could feel the effects of the economy through rising home and rental prices, which McBrayer said could impact the incumbent.
One of the complaints from ConservativesOf: Meridian was community growth.
At the end of the day, all three incumbents for Meridian City Council won, according to unofficial election results.
“Incumbents are a lot more likely to win in local elections,” McBrayer said. “Because this is an off-cycle election and … think about how difficult it is to know what each of the candidates stand for…(Incumbents) have a little bit of an advantage with their name recognition.”
BoiseDev’s Autum Robertson contributed reporting