Idaho Debates Senate 2020

The Idaho Debates featuring (from left) GOP U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan and independent Natalie Fleming aired Friday night on Idaho Public Television. 

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In the lone statewide televised candidate forum of this year’s U.S. Senate race in Idaho, two-term GOP Sen. Jim Risch, Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan and independent Natalie Fleming addressed the pandemic, health care, the Supreme Court, international relations, the environment, immigration and more.

The three participated in the "Idaho Debates," broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television on Friday night. The 90-minute program also is now available for viewing online at

Risch said in his closing comments, “Look, this is an easy choice in this particular race. You have a conservative Republican, myself, with a long conservative record. There’s no surprises here. … On the other side you have a committed liberal Democrat. I make no complaints about that. I mean, there’s a choice, and people should have a clear choice like they have in this race.”

The second-term senator, longtime state Senate leader and former lieutenant governor and governor said, “If they want Idaho to be what Idaho is, I’m your guy. On the other hand, if you want to move Idaho in a different direction, more left, then, you have the votes, you go the other way.”

Jordan, a former two-term state representative, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council member, direct descendant of Native American chiefs, businesswoman and the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor, countered, “Sen. Risch believes this race is a coronation and not an election, and he refuses to debate me, saying he doesn’t believe a debate is a good place to publish his views. That’s not what a debate is about, and he should have to answer for his record. He’s not respecting the democratic process and he’s taking advantage of Idahoans. With our limited ability to contact voters, he should be taking every opportunity to reach the voters and show some leadership in this critical moment of crisis, and it’s unacceptable.”

Jordan had challenged Risch to a series of four town hall-style debates around the state, but he never responded. He turned down a proposed debate sponsored by KTVB-TV. Due to COVID-19, this year’s Idaho Debates, which are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, the League of Women Voters of Idaho, Idaho Public Television and Idaho’s public universities, followed a modified format in which the candidates were interviewed via teleconferencing, with a moderator asking them the same questions; their answers were then spliced together to allow viewers to compare. But because they couldn’t hear and respond to each other’s answers, there was no traditional back-and-forth debate.

Jordan, in her closing comments, said, “Risch wants to nationalize this election so the choice is clear between a conservative and a liberal. But while he is obviously a typical ineffective partisan politician, I am not, and he cannot tie me to any of the leaders we now see on the other side. And I will tell you I am incredibly grateful to be in this position to serve.”

Fleming said, “I’d like you to consider me as an independent candidate for the United States Senate. Idaho is in a position to shake up D.C. … I know we’re all very unhappy with the status quo and now this is your chance to do something different.”

You can read my full story here at (subscription required), or pick up Saturday's print edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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