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Challengers mount runs against Idaho Republicans in Congress. Who leads in fundraising?

East Idaho Elects

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Longtime incumbents in Idaho’s congressional races continue to command hefty fundraising leads over challengers ahead of the May 17 primary, a key factor that has historically proven a reliable, though not decisive, measure for projecting contested races.

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, running to represent Idaho for his fifth term, leads all candidates in campaign fundraising, according to the latest Federal Election Commission records. Crapo, 70, has raised about $990,000 since the beginning of October, his election committee reports.

Crapo’s donation haul is more than three times that amount when extended back to January 2021, at about $3 million, FEC records show. In total, Crapo has more than $5.8 million in cash on hand as of the end of April, which includes contributions from prior elections transferred into his campaign’s overall funding balance.

Some of Crapo’s most recent backers include: political action committees for Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, two multinational aerospace and defense corporations, as well as political actions committees for medical insurance companies MetLife and Anthem, and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

Crapo faces four GOP primary challengers — none of whom before have held elected office: Brenda Bourn, Natalie M. Fleming, Scott Trotter and Ramont Turnbull. Only Trotter and Turnbull submitted the required April quarterly campaign finance report, and neither has raised more than $10,000 since October, the records show.

“It’s not impossible to do, but it is really tough to launch a campaign against an incumbent without raising a fairly substantial amount of money,” Jaclyn Kettler, a political science professor at Boise State University, told the Idaho Statesman. “Having a really large campaign war chest, there’s the idea you may prevent possible challengers from entering future races.”

DEMOCRATS VYING TO CHALLENGE CRAPO IN NOVEMBER

On the Democratic side of the ledger, two candidates, David Roth and Ben Pursley, are squaring off in the primary for the chance to take on Crapo in the November general election.

Roth, 40, is executive director of a nonprofit and former chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Party. His campaign reported raising about $5,200 to date.

Pursley, 51, meanwhile, works professionally as an asset manager and is a political newcomer. He loaned himself $25,000 for his campaign, according to his April quarterly report filed with the FEC, but missed registering as a candidate in the window allotted to do so after raising or spending more than $5,000, including personal loans.

A FEC spokesperson confirmed a formal complaint was filed against Pursley for failing to register as a candidate on time, which can lead to a fine if a violation is found after a commission review. A spokesperson for Pursley acknowledged in a written statement to the Statesman that the campaign did not file his candidate registration by the deadline, but said the campaign is now in compliance with FEC requirements. Campaign finance reports in May show Pursley loaned himself another $25,000, and raised $16,000 from donors.

“It’s pretty common to see a congressional candidate, whether in the House or Senate, particularly challengers, putting their own money in their campaign, just as kind of a way to get off the ground,” Kettler said. “It is key to keep in mind that money matters in campaigns, but it’s not the only factor, and it doesn’t guarantee, just because you have more money, that you will win.”

CAMPAIGN DONATIONS POUR IN FOR SIMPSON, SMITH

For the 2nd Congressional District seat representing Eastern Idaho, 12-term incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson faces four Republican primary opponents in what is so far the most expensive congressional race.

Simpson, 71, who has held elected office since 1980, and the U.S. House seat for more than 22 years, has raised nearly $650,000 dating to October. His campaign has spent at a similar clip, reaching more than $611,000 through April on TV and digital ads, and fundraising events, FEC records show. Simpson stands at about $500,000 of cash on hand.

Challenger Bryan Smith, 59, an Idaho Falls attorney, is mounting the most active campaign against Simpson. The two also faced-off in the congressional race’s Republican primary in 2014, with Simpson winning with nearly 62% of the vote.

Since October, Smith has raised about $364,000, and added another $450,000 in personal loans, according to FEC records. Through April, he’s spent about $593,000 of that total on consulting, polling, TV and digital advertising and direct mailers, records show.

“We’re trying to get our message out. We have a lot of grassroots support,” Smith told the Statesman by phone. “It takes a lot of money to defeat a 22-year career politician, no question.”

Sarah Nelson, Simpson’s campaign adviser, in an email to the Statesman, characterized Smith’s loans to his campaign as “a desperate attempt to buy the election.”

The other three Republican challengers, Flint L. Christensen, Daniel A.L. Levy and Chris Porter, have not reported raising any campaign funds.

“I am not fundraising. I have no donors,” Levy emailed the Statesman. “I’m just relying on word of mouth, hoping that voters want change, and trusting that people realize I’m more talented than the incumbent.”

Wendy Norman, the lone Democrat in the race for Simpson’s seat, has not raised or spent more than $5,000, according to a campaign spokesperson.

RUSS FULCHER RUNS UNCONTESTED IN GOP PRIMARY

In the House race to serve the state’s 1st Congressional District, which represents Western and North Idaho, Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher, 60, is running for his second term. He does not face a primary challenger, and has raised about $186,000 since October as part of more than $220,000 of cash on hand, FEC records show.

Also appearing on ballots in November will be Democrat Kaylee Peterson and Libertarian Party candidate Joe Evans, both of whom don’t face contested primaries. Peterson reported neither spending nor raising more than $5,000, and Evans has yet to raise any funds, according to their campaigns’ most recent filings.

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