Rudy Soto RV campaign tour provided photo

Rudy Soto speaks in Garden City on Monday, Sept. 7, 2019, as he launches a campaign RV tour of the 19 counties in the 1st Congressional District. Soto is a Democrat challenging first-term GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher.

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1st District Democratic congressional hopeful Rudy Soto launched a campaign tour of the sprawling Idaho district this week, pledging to travel in his campaign-decorated RV to more than 50 communities in all 19 of the district’s counties – and saying he’d be a congressman who could work across party lines.

Soto, a Nampa native and first-time candidate, is challenging freshman GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher of Meridian. Fulcher, 58, is a conservative who served five terms in the state Senate before being elected to Congress and mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge from the right against GOP Gov. Butch Otter in 2014.

Fulcher is ranked the 16th most-partisan House member, in the annual Bipartisanship Index rankings compiled by the Lugar Center at Georgetown University. Among the few in the 435-member House who ranked as more partisan were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York; Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

“That is not how you get things done, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” Soto said, branding Fulcher as “ineffective” in representing Idaho. “I’ve seen what’s wrong with Washington. We need people that are willing to work across party lines.”

Soto, 34, whose Capitol Hill experience includes work as a congressional staffer and as legislative director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said if elected, he’ll join the “Problem Solvers Caucus,” a group of 25 House Republicans and 25 House Democrats formed in 2017 that works on bipartisan solutions, and has had some notable successes on trade, rules reform, immigration and coronavirus response. The caucus is chaired by Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y.

Fulcher responded that the current atmosphere in Congress limits the success of bipartisan proposals.

“While caucus organizations have an important role to play,” Fulcher’s campaign said in a statement, “in the current climate, bipartisan efforts are accomplished due to reputation and professional relationships with other members of Congress.”

He touted his “potato diplomacy” efforts, which have included sending gift packs including an Idaho Spud Bar and potato chips along with a personal note to Democratic representatives. The campaign said his overtures have been “widely embraced.”

Fulcher blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the partisan divide in the House. “The Speaker only hears bills in consideration of her party,” his campaign said. “This has reduced incentives for Republicans to introduce legislation, and has ultimately led to a litany of extreme policy that passed the House just to die in the Senate.”

Soto, who already has made campaign stops this week in Garden City, McCall and Grangeville, said, “We’ve just got to do what we can do, and I figured this was the best way to get around not having the fairs, festivals, parades. That’s why we’re employing this method of outreach.”

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Thursday'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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