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As first-term GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher seeks a second two-year term representing Idaho in the U.S. House, he’s facing challenges from an energetic Democrat who’s been touring the 1st Congressional District in an RV and a Libertarian combat veteran who wants to bring U.S. troops home.

“I think this year is going to be a turning point for our history, and I want to do whatever I can to make sure that our representative republic stays in place,” Fulcher said on statewide television during the “Idaho Debates,” adding, “It is under attack, we are under attack.”

Fulcher, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, says on his campaign website that he is “pro-gun,” “pro-life” and “pro-Constitution,” and said in his League of Women Voters survey that he wants another term to “help Idahoans reopen the pathway to prosperity and liberty.” He’s a former board member of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Democrat Rudy Soto says Fulcher, a conservative who unsuccessfully challenged then-GOP Gov. Butch Otter from the right in the GOP primary in 2014, is too partisan to accomplish much in Washington, D.C.

“You’ve got to work across the aisle, and he’s shown no willingness to do that,” Soto told the Idaho Press. “Yes, we are conservative-leaning for sure. That’s why I consider myself a moderate Democrat and always have.”

Soto says he wants to join the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus” in the House and work on making health care more affordable and accessible, extending rural broadband service, and infrastructure investments for Idaho.

Libertarian Joe Evans says both major-party candidates are “beholden” to their national party organizations.

“As the Libertarian I represent that individualist ideal that is very Idahoan,” he said.

He acknowledges that his positions, including ending foreign wars, opening borders and legalizing medical marijuana, may not be widely popular in the conservative, heavily Republican district.

“I like to think that I’m the best candidate for the job, but I understand a lot of my views aren’t always popular,” Evans said. “Definitely get out, do your research, find out about the candidates, check up Russ Fulcher’s voting record, check out Rudy Soto’s platform, look at mine. That’s how you’re going to know who’s going to represent your views best.”

Fulcher’s voting record has won him endorsements from the Club for Growth, the Family Research Council, Idaho Chooses Life, and Citizens United, the group that won the controversial, landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that extended 1st Amendment protection to corporations, allowing unlimited election spending by corporations and labor unions.

The candidates’ most recent campaign finance reports show Fulcher had raised $373,039 through June 30, nearly two-thirds of that from political action committee representing interests from energy to banking to railroads. Among his biggest donors were Koch Industries PAC, donating $7,500.

Soto had raised $119,883, 98% of that from individuals. His only PAC contributions were $500 each from two Native American-related PACs and $500 from the campaign of Congresswoman Deb Halland, who also is Native American.

Evans hadn’t met the $5,000 fundraising threshold to file a Federal Election Commission report. He said he’s received about $900 in donations. Updated quarterly reports are due to the FEC this week.

According to Fulcher’s congressional website, the incumbent has sponsored seven bills and three resolutions in the two years he’s been in office — three of those bills and one resolution just since June — and none have become law. He’s also co-sponsored 109 measures.

The most recent bill he introduced was the “Next Generation Nuclear Advancement Act of 2020,” which he introduced Sept. 23 with 2nd District GOP Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson as a co-sponsor; Fulcher also introduced an earlier version of the measure in June. It seeks to advance nuclear energy research.

He’s maintained that with the House under Democratic control, there’s little opportunity for Republicans to make progress with legislation.

“The speaker only hears bills in consideration of her party,” his campaign said in a September statement. “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.”

Fulcher was ranked the 16th most-partisan House member, out of 435, 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.

Soto said that’s of little value to Idahoans “when it comes to getting things done and making things happen.”

“They are the messengers, they’re like the ideological purists that try to push agendas, but the people that get things done are the people that work across party lines,” Soto said.

Fulcher, 58, is a former five-term state senator and Senate GOP caucus chair, former sales and marketing director at two Idaho high-tech firms, and a former commercial real estate broker who was raised on a Meridian dairy farm. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from Boise State University, plus a certificate in electrical engineering theory taught at Micron Technology. He garnered 43.6% of the vote in his challenge to then-Gov. Butch Otter in 2014, and filed to run for governor again in 2018, but dropped out of the race after then-1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador decided to run for governor, opting to run for Labrador’s former seat instead.

Soto, 34, is a Nampa native, enrolled member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and son of a Mexican immigrant, who was a first-generation college graduate. He overcame a troubled childhood to go to college, serve in the U.S. Army National Guard, and work as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., and as legislative director for the National Indian Gaming Association. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Portland State University, where he served as student body president.

Evans, 52, is a veteran of three tours with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, who first ran for office as a Libertarian seeking a state Senate seat in 2018, unsuccessfully challenging then-Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who now is Fulcher’s chief of staff. Evans holds two bachelor’s degrees from Boise State University and an associate degree in military intelligence; he works in cloud computing and information technology but is currently between jobs.

Idaho has never elected a Libertarian to Congress, but it has elected a third-party candidate four times, all more than a century ago, according to records held by the Idaho Secretary of State, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. In 1900, former Republican Sen. Fred DuBois was re-elected to the Senate as a “Silver Republican,” but switched to the Democratic Party shortly after the election. James Gunn was elected to the House as a Populist in 1896 and served one term. Former Republican Edgar Wilson was elected as a Silver Republican to succeed him in 1888. Thomas Glenn was elected to the House as a Populist in 1900 and served one term.

Evans said he believes this could be the year a Libertarian wins.

“This is 2020,” he said. “We have seen nothing but odds being broken all year ’round, not always for the good.”

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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