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Bleak streak for Idaho Democrats likely to continue

Any action will be in 2nd District Republican primary

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson faces a Republican primary rematch from eight years ago.
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson faces a Republican primary rematch from eight years ago. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — No matter how you draw the line between Idaho’s two congressional districts, there just aren’t enough Democratic voters to make things interesting. And the Gem State is likely to send two Republicans to the House for another decade. 

It’s been bleak for Idaho Democrats in federal races. 

Democrats haven’t won Idaho’s Electoral College votes since 1964, and their nominee has cleared 37 percent only once in the 58 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory over Republican Barry Goldwater. Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in Idaho since Frank Church’s reelection in 1974. (He later lost in the 1980 GOP wave.)

And Republicans have won 27 of 28 U.S. House races in Idaho going back to 1994. Democrats’ lone victory was in 2008, when a combination of a good Democratic year and a flawed GOP nominee elected Democrat Walt Minnick from the 1st District. Two years later, he lost by 10 points to Republican Raúl Labrador.

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

Democrats briefly had two representatives (Larry LaRocco and Richard Stallings) after the 1990 election. But Stallings didn’t run for reelection in 1992, and LaRocco lost to Republican Helen Chenoweth in 1994. 

Almost three decades later, there just aren’t enough Democratic voters to draw a competitive district in Idaho. In 2020, GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher received more votes in his 1st District reelection race than Joe Biden received statewide.

That means any political fireworks will be in the May 19 Republican primary. Fulcher doesn’t have any opposition in the 1st, which covers western Idaho. But Rep. Mike Simpson in the 2nd faces a primary rematch from eight years ago. 

In 2014, Simpson turned back a spirited challenge from Boise attorney Bryan Smith, who had significant support from the Club for Growth. The congressman won the primary 62 percent to 38 percent, but Smith is back for a belated rematch. Simpson had a modest $517,000-to-$289,000 cash advantage at the end of December, but Smith has yet to capture the Club’s nod again. The group’s PAC spent $500,000 in the 2014 race, which attracted $3 million in outside spending overall. There hasn’t been nearly as much attention on the race this time around. 

That doesn’t mean the congressman is unbeatable. As a 71-year-old who has been on Capitol Hill for more than two decades, it’s not hard to paint Simpson as part of the establishment. And the congressman has been criticized for supporting breaching several dams on the Snake River. But it doesn’t look as though Smith has yet captured the momentum usually necessary to knock off an incumbent. Meanwhile, the top of the ballot features a spirited primary between Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. 

Both the 1st and 2nd District races are rated Solid Republican. 

The most exciting news for Idaho’s delegation could be at the end of the decade, when the Gem State could be in line for a third district for the first time in state history following the 2030 census.  

Races rated Solid Republican

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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