BOISE — Paulette Jordan defeated Jim Vandermaas in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, setting up a race against two-term GOP Sen. Jim Risch in the fall.
Meanwhile, Rudy Soto of Nampa won the Democratic primary for the 1st District congressional seat; while both GOP Reps. Russ Fulcher in the 1st District and Mike Simpson in the 2nd District easily led their primary challengers.
Risch, currently chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was unopposed in the GOP primary, making his reelection run in November a marquee race against Jordan, the Democratic nominee for governor two years ago. A former two-term state representative and a Coeur d’Alene tribal council member, her run for governor in 2018 drew national attention as the first bid for governor of Idaho by a Native American woman; she also is a direct descendant of famous chiefs.
Idaho hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since famed Sen. Frank Church won his fourth term in 1974, and the state hasn’t seen a truly contested Democratic primary for the post in a decade. But this year was different, with a spirited contested primary between Jordan, 40, and Vandermaas of Eagle, 62.
The last truly contested Idaho Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate was in 2008, when Larry LaRocco faced off against David Archuleta of Fort Hall and write-in candidate Kevin Volkmann, defeating both, but then losing to Risch.
LaRocco said earlier that between President Trump and Risch, “The enthusiasm level is very high with Democrats, as demonstrated in the 2018 midterm election. … People see a potential pickup there.”
Vandermaas was making his second run for Idaho office, after losing a Democratic primary race for the 1st District congressional seat two years ago.
Jordan couldn’t be reached for comment by press time on election night, but Risch issued this statement: “I want to thank the substantial number of Idahoans who voted for me in the primary election. I am in Washington, DC tonight doing my duties as U.S. Senator for Idaho. As I travel around the state over the coming months, I look forward to asking Idahoans for their support in November, while I continue to work to advocate for Idaho’s needs to ensure we emerge stronger from these challenging times, which I have every confidence we will.”
In the 1st District congressional race, Nampa native Rudy Soto defeated University of Idaho law student Staniela Nikolova of Moscow for the chance to take on Fulcher in November. Soto was born and raised in Nampa and is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the son of a Mexican immigrant. A first-generation college graduate, he also is a veteran of the Army National Guard, where he served for five and a half years.
“I’m really humbled and grateful to all those that have put their trust and confidence in me to choose me as the nominee,” Soto said. “I think right now our country’s lacking real leadership as well as our district, so people are going to be looking for folks who are willing to stand up … to keep us united. … So I’m really excited and ready to go face to face with him (Fulcher) in the general election.
On Election Night, Soto, 34, was out on the state Capitol steps, attending a vigil for George Floyd organized by Idaho’s black community.
“It’s really inspiring, just to see Idahoans of all backgrounds here united in a positive way,” he said. “I think it reflects highly on our state.”
Soto worked in suicide prevention and child welfare services before becoming a congressional staffer and legislative director of the National Indian Gaming Association; Soto touted his Capitol Hill experience along with his background in his primary campaign. He said that experience working in Washington, D.C., has prepared him to “hit the ground running” if elected.
Idaho’s 1st Congressional District seat was last held by a Democrat in 2010, when then-Rep. Walt Minnick lost after one term to four-term GOP Rep. Raul Labrador.
Fulcher, 58, is a first-term GOP congressman who was elected in November of 2018 with 62.8% of the vote to Democrat Cristina McNeil’s 30.8%. Fulcher previously served six terms in the state Senate, representing Meridian and rising to majority caucus chairman. He unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Butch Otter in the 2014 GOP primary, garnering 43.6% of the vote.
Fulcher declined to comment to a reporter on election night; his campaign said he was traveling and unavailable.
Fulcher fought back a lively challenge from Boise businessman Nicholas Jones in the GOP primary; Jones largely self-funded his campaign, and even spent his own money to file a successful federal lawsuit that got the absentee ballot request deadline extended a week due to access problems with the Idaho Secretary of State’s ballot request website.
“It’s exciting to be able to … have won that victory, to be on the right side of the lane for that,” Jones said. He said he “100%” is planning to run for office again.
In the 2nd District congressional race, 10-term Rep. Mike Simpson, a dentist from Idaho Falls and a key player for years on the funding powerhouse House Appropriations Committee, easily turned back a GOP primary challenge from Kevin Rhoades of Boise, a businessman and retired mixed martial arts fighter, who tried to portray himself as the bigger booster of President Donald Trump. However, Trump endorsed Simpson, tweeting out his support on Monday.
Simpson, 69, is the ranking Republican member on the House Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee, and will be its chairman again if the GOP wins a House majority in November. He has used this position to direct billions of dollars to Idaho National Laboratory and other regional priorities over the years, and told the Post Register he sought another term because he has more to do to support INL and Idaho businesses and agriculture.
Simpson was not a fan of now-President Trump during the 2016 primaries, but he has since grown more supportive, crediting Trump policies such as cutting taxes and regulations for the pre-coronavirus economic boom and defending Trump when he was impeached in December 2019. Simpson said he “absolutely” plans to vote for Trump this year.
In November, Simpson will face Democrat Aaron Swisher of Boise, who was unopposed in the primary.