Three days before the election, Idaho Democrats crammed a rented store to celebrate the victory-to-be and give praise to the man who made it possible - Gov. Cecil Andrus.

The Democrats whooped it up in a fashion known only to those who have long been the underdogs and now suddenly have realized Idaho no longer is an automatic Republican state.Andrus, dressed in western clothing, tried to make his way through the crowd to make a speech, but it was hard. The Democrats knew he was chiefly responsible for their comeback, and most of the 1,000

partygoers wanted to shake his hand or congratulate him.

The partying and celebrations weren't premature. On Nov. 6, Idaho Democrats made their most smashing gains in decades. A party, devastated after Sen. Frank Church's 1980 defeat to Republican Sen. Steve Symms, was most of the way back.

Democrats gained a congressional seat, the attorney general's post, enough state senators to throw that chamber into a tie and seven House seats. The election was hardly over before Democrats starting planning for next time, when they hope to capture Symms' Senate seat and continue gains in the Legislature.

They also started seeking a Democratic heir to the party throne when Andrus retires from the statehouse in four years.

Republicans, meantime, were left sifting through party rubble and trying to hold on to what they have left.

Andrus's victory puts him in a very powerful position. He's already announced this will be his last term. When he finishes it, he will have been the Gem State governor longer than anyone else - 14 years.

His authority within the party is unquestioned, and if the Republican leadership in the Legislature tries to question his "mandate" from the voters, Andrus just has to point to his 68 percent majority.

Andrus said he ran on his record, and it's hard to argue that voters don't approve when he carried 42 of the state's 44 counties.

Andrus gave a lot of help to Democrats J.D. Williams, state auditor, and Larry EchoHawk, attorney general-elect. Both won handily, and already there's talk that one or the other will be the party's choice to succeed Andrus in four years.