BOISE — Democratic challengers Rudy Soto and Paulette Jordan outraised the Republican incumbents in the most recent quarter, but both incumbent 1st District Rep. Russ Fulcher and Sen. Jim Risch still have plenty of campaign money in the bank.
Nevertheless, the challengers’ fundraising success is drawing attention; Soto is launching his first TV ad in the race, as Fulcher, a first-term congressman, has been lying low.
“I have to be totally candid: I was shocked,” Soto said Monday. “I’ve been an underdog since Day 1, and I never thought I would come out ahead in fundraising. It’s almost like he doesn’t care; he isn’t trying.”
According to the latest quarterly reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Soto raised $120,179 in contributions between July 1 and Sept. 30, just 6% of that from political action committees. He spent $100,100 campaigning, and had $58,506 left in the bank at the end of the reporting period.
Fulcher raised $95,273, spent just $40,456, and had $101,116 left in the bank. Fifty-three percent of Fulcher’s contributions during the quarter came from PACs representing interests ranging from energy to real estate; 61% of his fundraising for the election cycle to date has come from PACs.
Fulcher, who started the period with $112,400 in the bank, gave more out in contributions than he spent on campaigning during the key reporting period between the primary and general elections. He gave $66,100, including $62,100 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, $3,000 to GOP congressional candidates in Montana, Arizona, and Virginia, and $1,000 to the Idaho Federation of College Republicans.
Fulcher’s declined to debate Soto; according to his campaign Facebook page, his largest recent campaign event was a Facebook Live “virtual town hall” Oct. 12 in which he answered selected questions from viewers. It drew 62 “likes” and 19 shares. He’s also sent mailers and purchased online ads.
Soto, by contrast, has been campaigning heavily throughout the district, traveling in a campaign-decorated RV to every county in the sprawling western Idaho district.
Fulcher recently told Idaho Press columnist Chuck Malloy, “I think most people in the 1st District know who I am. They may like me or not, but they know what they get.”
“The numbers are in his favor,” Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler said of Fulcher, as Idaho’s 1st Congressional District is heavily Republican by registration. “So I think he has some advantages that probably allow him some room to maybe not be as active of a campaigner as what you would need to be in a closer, more competitive district.”
In Idaho’s sole U.S. Senate race, Jordan narrowly outraised two-term incumbent Risch for the quarter by raising $561,984 to Risch’s $545,644.
Forty-three percent of Risch’s contributions came from political action committees representing interests ranging from energy and telecommunications to banking and real estate; less than 1% of Jordan’s fundraising was from PACs, all of it from EMILY’s List, a national group that promotes Democratic women candidates who are pro-choice, and has endorsed Jordan this year. Individuals donated the rest.
Risch had more than $2.6 million in the bank at the close of the reporting period, while Jordan had $344,088.
“If one wishes to look at it on a quarterly cycle basis, our campaign has outraised our opponent in two of three quarters,” Risch campaign spokeswoman Rachel Burkett said in an email.
Jordan and Soto have drawn large numbers of small contributions from individuals, both in Idaho and across the country; many of those came through ActBlue, the national online fundraising platform for Democratic candidates and progressive causes. Both also have drawn contributions from Native American tribes, both in Idaho and across the country; he’s a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, while she is Coeur d’Alene Tribe member and former elected member of the tribal council.
Kettler said Jordan, a former state legislator and the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor, “gets a lot of national attention, I think partly for her identity as a Native American woman. The other thing that’s going on is Democrats are raising so much money across the entire country. … That can spread to even a Senate Democratic candidate in Idaho.”
Jordan and Risch have been actively campaigning; their campaign ads are nearly constant on the airwaves in Idaho, and Jordan’s report shows evidence of extensive travel around Idaho. Between Senate business, Risch, too, has made some campaign appearances in Idaho, including speaking recently to a Rotary Club in Pocatello. He’s declined head-to-head debates with Jordan.
Idaho’s 1st Congressional District last elected a Democrat a decade ago, when one-term Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick won the seat. Like Minnick, a former Republican, Soto is offering himself as a moderate Democrat who aims to work with both parties.
His new TV campaign ad includes a notable example of that: At its close, Soto says, “Whether you vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden, I’d be honored to earn your vote, and I’ll work hard for you.”
Kettler said that’s highly unusual for a candidate for partisan office.
“Often we’ll get implicit appeals to voters of both parties, but … it’s not so explicit,” she said. “It’s very interesting to see that direct appeal to potential swing voters that may particularly like Trump but may be able to be swayed for the other races.”
Soto’s ad includes images of him with his Army National Guard buddies and wearing an “ARMY” T-shirt, highlighting his service, but doesn’t mention it; instead, the wording of the ad largely focuses on health care, including sharing the story of his father’s death from cancer when it was deemed a preexisting condition and he couldn’t get care. The ad includes a scene of Soto at his father’s funeral.
“Those types of personal stories can be really compelling to people, especially if your family has experienced similar challenges,” Kettler said.
It follows Soto’s focus throughout his campaign on what he’s called a key to his potential appeal in the 1st Congressional District: That despite heavy GOP registration in the district, 16 of the 19 counties in the district voted in favor of expanding Medicaid in 2018, which passed statewide with more than 61% of the vote.
“A good chunk of the ad is focused on health care, which … I think is an issue there’s bipartisan concern for,” Kettler said, potentially allowing Soto to target “Republicans that probably voted for most Republicans on the ballot, but voted for Medicaid expansion.”
Soto said, “The centerpiece of my campaign has always been health care access and affordability, which because of the pandemic has only been elevated.”
Republicans currently hold every seat in Idaho’s congressional delegation, along with every statewide office and 80% of the seats in the state Legislature.
Soto, a Nampa native and former congressional aide, said, “I think Democrats have been real cowards, national Democrats, by just giving up places that used to be Democratic strongholds. You don’t win if you don’t try. The people of Idaho deserve a competitive election.”