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Crapo defends record in US Senate as rivals try to tie him to federal dysfunction

East Idaho Elects

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, defended his lengthy record and role as an accomplished foil to Democratic President Joe Biden during a public debate Monday, as two political foes painted him as an uncompromising, career politician whose continued time in office prevents the state and nation from addressing some of their most pressing issues.

In a spirited but respectful 90-minute forum, the candidates for Idaho’s only Senate seat up for election in November exchanged occasional light jabs, while making their own cases directly to voters why they’re best suited to represent the state in Washington, D.C.

The challengers, Democrat David Roth and independent candidate Scott Cleveland, tried to pin Crapo to frequent national impasse — contributing to failed efforts to push the U.S. back on the right path. Crapo, the longtime incumbent, countered by emphasizing his successes, with a focus on blocking “runaway spending” by the Democrats who control Congress, and the need to restore Republican governance.

“My record is proven,” Crapo said, pledging to maintain and uphold Idaho’s conservative principles and values. “I have voted against the excess spending in Washington. I believe that we’ve got to return to more fiscally appropriate policies, protect our energy independence and stop the crime at the border.”

Crapo, 71, of Idaho Falls, is seeking a fifth term in his seat. If voters send him back to Washington, D.C., he’ll surpass Democrat Frank Church’s 24 years as the second-longest serving U.S. senator in Idaho history. Republican William Borah holds the record after serving 33 years, from 1907 to 1940.

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Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, center, shakes the hands of opponents Scott Cleveland, an independent, left, and Democratic candidate David Roth following a debate at Idaho Public Television, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Boise. | Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

“If we’re going to change things in this country … we can’t keep doing the same things, with the status quo, go-along-to-get-along politics,” Cleveland said. “That’s what’s gotten us in the mess we’re in so far.”

Roth also argued that decades of a Republican supermajority in Idaho have led to the same repeat results — with increasing numbers of residents unable to afford housing, and also only one major bill away from serious financial hardship.

“We’ve been looking at, essentially, the same leadership for over 30 years in this state,” Roth said. “I think it could objectively be stated that what we’re doing is not working, and we need to look at different policies.”

WHO’S ON THE BALLOT?

Crapo, a lawyer, previously served three terms in the U.S. House and is the Republican Party’s highest-ranking member on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. He also serves on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Senate Committee on the Budget.

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U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, defends his voting record and decades of public service during a debate hosted by Idaho Public Television, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Boise. Democratic candidate David Roth, and independent Scott Cleveland, also participated. | Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

His election opponents come from much different backgrounds. Neither, for example, has ever held elected office.

Roth, 41, of Idaho Falls, is the executive director of a nonprofit and previously chaired the Bonneville County Democratic Party. He is also an openly gay single father of two adopted children.

Cleveland, 60, of Garden City, is the owner of an Eagle investment firm. He is running as an independent, but calls himself a lifelong Republican and strong believer in the so-called “America First” movement promoted by former President Donald Trump.

The debate between the three covered an expansive list of contentious topics, including their stances on election fraud, rising extremism and social issues, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Debate panelists focused many of their other questions on issues surrounding the economy, with the candidates sparring over federal versus state rights.

Cleveland, who said he would caucus with Republicans if elected, called out Crapo for supporting the federal infrastructure law, which he said includes “a bunch of green energy nonsense,” before then voting against the recent CHIPS and Science Act that will directly benefit local firm Micron Technology, Idaho’s largest for-profit employer. The bill’s passage will help Micron construct a new $15 billion plant, or fab, to again produce microchips in the U.S.

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Idaho independent candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Cleveland takes aim at incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Crapo on issues of spending and conservatism during an Idaho Public Television hosted debate, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Boise. Democratic candidate David Roth also participated in the debate. | Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Instead, Cleveland said he would hold out on supporting any new federal spending until rampant crossings by undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border was resolved. An exception would include helping support veterans and Idaho’s homeless population — though, he said, the government should not be in the business of providing people with housing.

“There’s plenty of money. We just don’t have the will to aim it at the right people,” Cleveland said.

Crapo pointed out that the infrastructure bill’s development began during the Trump administration. Crapo also is a longtime supporter of Micron, he said, but he couldn’t support the hundreds of billions of dollars more that Democrats added to the CHIPS Act, which passed with bipartisan support and Biden signed into law in August.

Roth said his personal and professional background made up for his lack of experience in elected office and helped inform his policy positions. The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act is one example of action at the federal level he would have supported to spur needed change.

“I have real-world, on-the-ground experience, working with the problems that everyday Idahoans face,” Roth said, listing the issues of affording housing, prescription drug costs and drug addiction assistance. “What we need to do is, instead of being obstructionist to every single policy that comes through … we need to actually work together and look forward to solutions that will reduce the problem.”

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Idaho Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator David Roth presents his ideas and views challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Crapo during a debate hosted by Idaho Public Television, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Boise. Independent candidate Scott Cleveland also attended participated. | Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Libertarian Party candidate Idaho Sierra Law, also known as Carta Reale Sierra, and Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz have qualified for the ballot as well. Idaho Sierra Law did not qualify for the debate because he is not actively campaigning, while Writz did not respond to a request to participate by Idaho Public Television, according to the station, which hosted the debate.

Crapo has a massive fundraising advantage over his rivals. Through June, the Republican reported more than $5.6 million to spend on his campaign, if he chooses, Federal Election Commission records showed. A separate political action committee exclusively supporting Crapo reported another $351,500 in contributions for the calendar year, with $31,000 still on hand after expenditures.

Cleveland reported about $26,000 in total contributions during the election cycle, with $15,800 still on hand through June. Roth, meanwhile, reported total contributions of $16,500, with $5,900 in cash on hand through June.

Neither Writz nor Idaho Sierra Law have reported any campaign fundraising to the FEC.

SIMPSON, FULCHER DECLINE DEBATES

Monday’s debate, which airs 8 p.m. Tuesday on IPTV, is the only federal debate the station will host this election cycle. Idaho incumbent Reps. Mike Simpson, 71, and Russ Fulcher, 60, each declined to participate in a debate.

Democrats Wendy Norman, who’s challenging Simpson, and Kaylee Peterson, who’s opposing Fulcher, both criticized the Republican incumbents for refusing the opportunity and said they’re turning their backs on voters and the tradition of public discourse during campaigns.

Simpson’s campaign adviser previously told the Idaho Statesman that the residents of Idaho already know the longtime congressman representative’s record. The 12-term congressman represents the 2nd Congressional District, which includes East Idaho and part of Boise.

Fulcher’s campaign told the Statesman the two-term 1st Congressional District representative “supports vigorous political campaigns and public candidate debates, but, in this case, does “not believe in ‘campaigning for the opposition.’ ” Fulcher represents western and northern Idaho and part of Boise.

“It is the view of the Fulcher campaign team that the Democrat nominee for U.S. Congress in ‘22 has not mounted a viable political campaign for the upcoming general election, and that her strategy may be to use public debates with Mr. Fulcher as her primary means of garnering attention,” a campaign spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are willing, able, and eager to debate and run our own campaign, but unwilling to be the primary enabler for hers.”

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