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BOISE — Now that we know that we actually will be having a primary election in May — it’ll be Idaho’s first-ever all-absentee ballot election, and final ballots won’t all be in until June 2 — it’s time to catch up on some candidate news.

Idaho has three federal races on the ballot this spring: One Senate seat and both congressional seats. GOP Sen. Jim Risch is unopposed in the primary, while the race on the Democratic side has shrunk from four candidates to two: Jim Vandermaas and Paulette Jordan.

Vandermaas, a retired law enforcement communications specialist, volunteer firefighter, paramedic and businessman from Eagle, has won the endorsement of one of the race’s dropouts, eastern Idaho farmer Travis Oler, who decided to run for the state Legislature instead and endorse Vandermaas for Senate.

“On policy issues I saw that we were fairly similarly aligned,” Oler said. “We were both moderates.”

The other Democratic primary hopeful for the Senate seat is Paulette Jordan, former Democratic nominee for governor in 2018.

Jordan won a contested Democratic primary that year against former longtime Boise School Board member and previous Democratic gubernatorial nominee A.J. Balukoff. In this year’s Senate primary, Balukoff has endorsed Vandermaas.

“Paulette wasn’t in the race when I endorsed him,” Balukoff said. “Jim asked me to be his campaign treasurer, so I told him I would.” Jordan announced her candidacy in February, but Balukoff said, “I had signed on as his campaign treasurer way before then.”

“He ran before, so he’s got some experience,” Balukoff said.

Vandermaas ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the 1st District congressional seat in 2018; he lost to Cristina McNeil, who ran unsuccessfully in the general election against 1st District GOP Congressman Russ Fulcher. McNeil also endorsed Vandermaas.

“I see a new beginning with Jim,” McNeil said in a statement.

Balukoff said he wants to make sure there’s a Democratic challenger in the race.

“I think it helps us talk about the issues and I think that’s really important,” he said. “I’m going to stick with Jim and then hopefully he’ll win, but if he doesn’t I’ll support Paulette.”

Others running for the Senate seat include Constitution Party hopeful Ray Writz and independent Natalie Fleming. Democrat Nancy Harris withdrew from the race in February for health reasons. Risch, current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seeking a third six-year term.

1st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

First-term GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher is seeking reelection, and he faces a Republican primary challenge from Nicholas Jones, a small businessman who owns 11 Good Burger locations in Idaho and Utah and three All About Games stores in Idaho.

Jones, 34, previously ran for the Boise City Council in 2017, coming in fourth in a four-way race that was won by Holli Woodings. He said he wants to bring a small business voice to Congress.

“I’ve gone through the birth and death of companies,” Jones said. “I’ve seen the struggles that my peers have had.”

Fulcher, a former state senator who ran in the GOP primary for governor against then-Gov. Butch Otter in 2014, garnering 43.6% of the vote to Otter’s 51.4%, said, “I went into this role in 2018 hoping to help transition some control from Washington to Idaho; then impeachment and a pandemic happened. Both of those events resulted in a more ‘federalized’ nation.”

“As those events fade into the rear-view mirror, we need to ensure that some current regulations do not become permanent, national debt gets dealt with, and we are free to prosper,” he said. “I want to play a role in that process.”

On the Democratic side, Rudy Soto announced his run for the seat in November and launched his campaign in January; he’s a Nampa native and a National Guard veteran.

A late filer in the Democratic race was Staniela Nikolova of Moscow, a University of Idaho student who placed third in the Democratic primary for the same seat in 2016. Also running is Libertarian Joe Evans of Meridian.

2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

11th-term GOP Rep. Mike Simpson, a dentist and former speaker of the Idaho House who has risen to serve in some of the most influential roles in Congress, including its appropriations process, is seeking his 12th two-year term.

Simpson spent 15 years working to get legislation through protecting the Boulder-White Clouds mountains in Idaho, which he accomplished through a long-sought and much-negotiated wilderness bill. Now, his biggest project is working on a way to save the salmon; in September he described it as the hardest problem he’s ever taken on.

In the GOP primary, he faces Kevin Rhoades of Boise. In 2018, Rhoades, a former mixed martial arts fighter, ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, taking 29.9% of the vote to her 70.1%. During his campaign, he deleted a Facebook post that contained an anti-Muslim slur, saying it was just “cagefighter staged hysteria” aimed at a former teammate-turned-rival.

Democratic candidate Aaron Swisher is running unopposed in the primary; he ran against Simpson in 2018, taking 39.3% of the vote to Simpson’s 60.7%.

Also on the ballot this year are Constitution Party candidate Pro-Life, formerly known as Marvin Richardson before he legally changed his name; and Libertarian Idaho Sierra Law of Pocatello.

The primary election starts May 19, which is when all absentee ballot requests must be in; the general election is Nov. 3.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press.

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