Democrats outspent Republicans in runup to legislative elections

Democrats outspent Republicans in the runup to the Nov. 8 legislative elections — an election that saw the GOP add to its Statehouse supermajority.

In the period from Oct. 1 to Oct. 23, the Idaho Democratic Party and the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee gave $21,800 to legislative candidates, and an additional $26,000 to an outside group that supported Democrats.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum.

By contrast, the Idaho Republican Party and its legislative committees gave only $5,000 to a campaign — a controversial independent expenditure targeting House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

Lewiston Republican Mike Kingsley defeated Rusche last week, one of four legislative seats picked up by the GOP. Republicans also unseated Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, and won open seats that had been held by outgoing Reps. Dan Rudolph of Lewiston and Mark Nye of Pocatello. (Nye won a Senate seat last week, and will succeed retiring Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello.)

By picking up three House seats, Republicans now hold a 59-11 majority in that chamber. With the addition of another Senate seat, the GOP holds a 29-6 Senate majority.

The October campaign finance reports are, at best, a snapshot. Due one week before the election, the reports cover only a period from Oct. 1 through Oct. 23, and contain no information on fundraising or spending in the final 16 days of the campaign. Subsequent sunshine reports, due in December, will provide a window into the homestretch of the race.

But the October reports indicate that Democrats were putting money into a concerted campaign in the state’s battleground legislative districts. The strategy was twofold: to protect Democratic seats in competitive districts, and make perhaps make inroads in close legislative races.

By and large, the plan didn’t work.

For example, the party gave matching $1,500 donations to 11 candidates, including Rusche and Bob Blakey, the Democrats’ candidate to replace Rudolph. Only one of these 11 candidates won: Sally Toone, who will succeed retiring Rep. Donna Pence, a fellow Gooding Democrat.

The Democrats’ legislative campaign committee didn’t fared much better, supporting Toone and six unsuccessful candidates, including Rusche and Blakey.

But far and away, the committee’s biggest contribution came on Oct. 3, with a $26,000 donation to Responsible Leadership for Idaho. The Democratic legislative committee gave $96,000 to Responsible Leadership for Idaho in 2016 — and in turn, the Boise group put money into literature, advertising and other independent expenditures supporting Democrats.

The GOP’s one independent expenditure has prompted a formal complaint from Democrats. The Democrats say GOP staffers and the Kingsley campaign illegally consulted with the Jeda Group of Coeur d’Alene, which worked on anti-Rusche campaign materials.

Due in part to the Democratic Party’s contributions, Democratic legislative candidates outraised Republicans in the October reporting period. Here’s a look at 10 key races:

  • District 1, House Seat A. Sandpoint Democrat Kate McAlister raised $9,796; Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, raised $8,018. Scott was re-elected.
  • District 5, Senate. Schmidt raised $8,022; Viola Republican Dan Foreman raised $3,375. Foreman won, swinging this seat to the GOP.
  • District 6, House Seat A. Blakey raised $7,011; Lewiston Republican and former legislator Thyra Stevenson raised $6,000. Stevenson will return to the House, as Republicans reclaimed this seat.
  • District 6, House Seat B. Rusche raised $17,885 to Kingsley’s $4,200. Kingsley won, flipping this seat to the GOP.
  • District 15, House Seat A. Boise Democrat Steve Berch raised $9,155. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, raised $7,513. Luker was re-elected.
  • District 26, Senate. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, raised $15,660; Bellevue Republican Dale Ewersen raised $2,850. Stennett was re-elected.
  • District 26, House Seat A. Hailey Democrat Kathleen Eder raised $11,450. Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, raised $10,500. Miller was re-elected.
  • District 26, House Seat B. Toone raised $10,550; Richfield Republican Alexander Sutter raised $6,250. Toone won, keeping this seat in Democrats’ hands.
  • District 29, Senate. Nye raised $8,200; Pocatello Republican Tom Katsilometes raised $3,243. Nye won, keeping this seat for the Democrats.
  • District 29, House Seat A. Pocatello Democrat David Maguire raised $4,445; Pocatello Republican Dustin Manwaring raised $2,950. Manwaring won the race to succeed Nye, flipping this seat to the GOP.

Coming Thursday: A closer look at independent groups and their role in the 2016 money race.

Coming Friday: Boise State University assistant professor Jaclyn Kettler joins Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin on Idaho Education News’ Extra Credit podcast. They’ll take a closer look at the 2016 elections and take your questions. Tune in on Facebook Live at 10:30 a.m., or watch for the podcast later that day.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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