IDAHO, USA —
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
Idaho’s congressional races have been quieter leading up to the May 17 primary than the big state races, but there are contested races on both sides of the ticket.
Most prominent has been the rematch between 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson and his 2014 challenger, Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith. There also are three lesser-known Republicans on the ballot.
First-grade teacher Wendy Norman of Rigby is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
And while there are no contested races in any party primary for the 1st District congressional seat held by GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher this spring, Idaho’s senior U.S. senator, Mike Crapo, faces four challengers in the Republican primary, and there’s a two-way race between Democrats Ben Pursley of Boise and David Roth of Idaho Falls to face the winner for Senate in November.
The November ballot for the Senate seat also will include an independent, a Libertarian and a Constitution Party candidate; and Libertarian Joe Evans is making his second bid on that party’s ticket for the 1st District seat.
Here’s a look at the choices voters face May 17 on both sides of the ticket:
2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — GOP
12th-term GOP Congressman Mike Simpson is a dentist from Blackfoot who’s risen to influential roles on the House Appropriations Committee. He’s taken a different approach in his campaign this year, going negative against second-time challenger Bryan Smith, an attorney from Idaho Falls whose firm’s medical debt recovery actions have been deeply unpopular in eastern Idaho, and refusing to debate him.
Both Simpson and Smith have been running TV commercials sharply critical of each other, while outside groups have run independent ads in support of each of them. The American Dental Association PAC has run supportive ads touting “Dr. Mike Simpson,” joined by a New Hampshire-based PAC called American Dream Federal Action, while a Florida-based group called America Proud PAC has run ads promoting Smith and criticizing Simpson.
According to Federal Election Commission records, America Proud PAC has just two donors, Stefan Gleason of Eagle, president of Money Metals Exchange, through his “Trusted Causes LLC,” and Ty Erickson, a doctor from Idaho Falls. All of the PAC’s expenditures have been against Simpson and in favor of Smith.
American Dream Federal Action has also run ads for an Indiana Republican congressional candidate, Erin Houchin, according to FEC records. It received all its money, $4 million, from a single donor, cryptocurrency trading platform FTX CEO Ryan Salame of Sandisfield, Mass.
Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler said it’s more common for candidates to hold themselves above the fray and rely on outside groups to do the attacking; this race shows the opposite. “It continues to be a pretty negative race,” she said.
It’s actually a five-way GOP primary, but there’s been hardly a peep out of the other hopefuls. None have even filed preliminary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, a step that Norman, the Democrat, has taken though she’s not yet reported any fundraising.
The other GOP hopefuls are Flint L. Christensen, a truck driver and veteran from Shelley; Daniel Algiers Lucas Levy, a businessman from Sun Valley with a clothing line who is also a home-school parent of four children; and Chris Porter of Meridian, who hasn’t responded to any candidate surveys and has no online presence, making him or her something of a ghost candidate.
Christensen has a website, ourmanflint.org, and calls himself a “conservative with libertarian-leaning values.” His top issues are to repeal the 16th Amendment to the U.S Constitution, which authorized the federal income tax; and the 17th Amendment, which established popular election of U.S. senators rather than their selection by state legislatures, on states’ rights grounds; and support for term limits. Christensen says if elected, he’d limit himself to two two-year terms in office. Christensen was the only candidate in the race to respond to the League of Women Voters’ Vote411 candidate survey, but he didn’t respond to the Idaho Republican Party candidate survey.
Levy responded only to the party survey, identifying his top three issues as improving the education system; reducing “wokeness,” and to “concentrate America’s energy on America instead of foreign affairs.” For his campaign website, he listed a Twitter account that has just one follower.
Both Smith and Simpson have reported substantial fundraising, with Simpson raising $1.04 million as of March 31 and still reporting $624,920 in campaign cash on hand. Smith has raised $639,706 and had $328,617 left as of March 31; his fundraising included a $300,000 personal loan plus $29,189 contributed from his own funds.
Smith, 59, says his top issues are opposing dam breaching; restarting the building of the Trump border wall; and requiring a photo ID to vote in all 50 states in the interest of election integrity. His campaign website is bryansmithforidaho.com.
Simpson, 71, identifies his top three issues in the race as the supply chain, inflation and gas prices. If he wins a 13th term, he said in a statement to the Idaho Press, “I’ll continue leading the fight against Biden and Pelosi’s far-left agenda and their attempts to raise taxes on Idahoans.” His campaign website is simpsonforcongress.com.
“I have a proven record of delivering results for Idaho, and I’m not afraid to take on tough challenges like stopping the EPA’s overreach,” he said. He also cited his successful efforts to remove wolves from the endangered species list and keep the sage grouse from being listed, and his support for veterans and the military, including supporting funding for military pay raises and medical care.
Simpson has made little mention during the campaign of the proposal he’s floated to breach four lower Snake River dams to save the region’s salmon and steelhead from extinction, while providing more than $30 billion in aid and mitigation to farmers and communities, including major investments in energy, irrigation, transportation, community development and more.
Simpson developed the concept after more than 300 meetings with stakeholders and interested parties, and has stressed that he hasn’t drafted legislation, but that Northwest interests, including states, congressional delegations, tribes and more, have a rare chance to come together and craft a solution to the problem before courts force one far less palatable on them.
Smith has relentlessly hammered Simpson on the issue, charging that he wants to “take water from farms and ranches and cut hydropower for Idaho families.”
Simpson has been just as relentless in criticizing Smith over his firm’s controversial medical debt collection business. In 2020, top eastern Idaho GOP donor Frank VanderSloot, owner of Melaleuca, successfully spearheaded legislation aimed at curbing abuses in medical debt collection in Idaho, with many of his major criticisms aimed at Smith’s firm. The bill, the Idaho Patient Act, was signed into law in March of that year and took effect Jan. 1, 2021.
Smith, board vice-chairman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and a member of the Bonneville County GOP Central Committee, also challenged Simpson in the 2014 GOP primary; Simpson won, with 61.6% of the vote to Smith’s 38.4%.
US SENATE – DEMOCRATS
Two candidates are facing off in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate this spring, Ben Pursley of Boise and David Roth of Idaho Falls. Pursley, a former teacher who now operates a commercial real estate investment and development company, hasn’t reported any campaign fundraising.
Roth, who has served as the Bonneville County Democrats chair and ran for the state Legislature in 2020, has reported raising $11,098, including $9,600 in loans from himself, and had $2,952 in campaign cash on hand as of March 31. He’s the executive director of the Bonneville Youth Development Council and serves on the boards of Idaho Falls Habitat for Humanity and the Idaho Falls Soup Kitchen.
Pursley, an avid skier, mountain biker and river rafter, says he wants to “reduce health care and prescription drug costs, defend retirement security, and protect our land, air and water.” He has a campaign website, pursleyforsenate.com.
Roth lists his top issues as substance use reduction through evidence-based programs; funding for education, including early childhood and after-school programs; health care affordability and access; and immigration reform. According to his campaign website, rothforidaho.org, his campaign slogan is “Real people have real problems and need real solutions.”
US SENATE – GOP
Idaho’s senior senator, Mike Crapo, is seeking a fifth six-year term in the Senate. If re-elected, he could chair the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes, health care, trade and more. Crapo is an attorney from Idaho Falls who’s a graduate of Brigham Young University and holds a law degree from Harvard.
He cites as his top issues – all of which he’s currently involved in legislating – prescription drug prices, energy policy and early cancer detection.
“We face a tremendous number of battles here, and the United States Senate is the battleground,” he said in an interview, “and I’m in the middle of those battles. … I very sincerely want to stay in this fight.”
Crapo has reported raising $5.7 million so far for the election cycle, and has just under $6 million in cash on hand and no debt. He raised $560,380 just from Jan. 1 to March 31 this year, including $250,249 from individuals and $171,200 from PACs. His campaign website is crapoforsenate.com.
Crapo faces four challengers in the GOP primary. They are:
Brenda Bourn, a dietician from Meridian who describes herself as a “conservative, Native American, freedom defender.” She lists her top issues as medical freedom, protecting borders, and educational freedom including vouchers.
Bourn reported raising $8,154 for her campaign through March 31, including $4,211 of her own funds; she received donations from seven individuals in Idaho, reported spending on travel, signs, web design and T-shirts, and had $2,077 in campaign cash left at the end of the reporting period. Her campaign website: www.bourn4senate.com
Natalie Fleming, a software developer from Boise, ran as an independent against GOP Sen. Jim Risch in 2020 and took 2.9% of the vote. She lists her top issues as a “family-focused free-market economy,” “multi-partisan legislation,” and data privacy.
Fleming reported no campaign fundraising. Her campaign website: natalieisawesome.com.
Scott Trotter, owner with wife Tracy of the sign-making business Image Design Center in Lewiston, also serves as a “worship pastor” and has served on community, school and church boards. He lists his top issues as restoring American pride, reducing the national debt, and securing the southern border.
Trotter has raised $9,550 for his campaign and had $3,382 left on March 31; he contributed $1,000 of his own funds and received donations from eight individuals, all in the Lewiston/Clarkston/Spokane area. His campaign website: scotttrotterforussenate.com
Ramont Turnbull, business development manager for a fiber-optic assembly company, lives in Meridian and is a Brigham Young University accounting graduate with nine children and 11 grandchildren. He lists his top three issues as keeping the federal government within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution; lower taxes; and opposition to term limits. “We the people exercise this power at the ballot box,” he said in his response to the Idaho GOP Voter Guide candidate survey.
Turnbull reported raising $22,900 for his campaign, consisting of $20,000 in loans of his own funds and a $2,900 contribution from his son. He’s spent $11,162 on signs and paid $7,000 to a digital marketing firm; he had $4,738 left as of March 31. His campaign website: turnbullforussenate.com
Kettler said, “It’s always challenging to defeat a congressional incumbent … especially in a state with one party having such a large advantage.” But she said the crowded field may be reflective of “unhappiness at D.C., at our national politics.”
The contested race on the Democratic side, though a rarity, can be either a plus or a minus for the winner, she said. “Contested primaries can bring attention to the candidates, to the race,” she said. But they also can use up resources that candidates might rather spend in the general election contest.
With the higher-profile contested state races this year, including for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state, congressional candidates, especially challengers, face long odds, she said, “to be out there getting your name known among everything else happening.”
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