Following the dollars: the year’s hottest legislative races

The costliest legislative race in Idaho is no surprise: a rematch of a razor-thin 2014 House race in Lewiston.

But there are a couple of surprises in the latest round of campaign finance reports.

To follow the legislative money trail, Idaho Education News reviewed more than 130 current campaign finance reports. These reports cover the fundraising period from May 28 through Sept. 30, and were due earlier this week.

From here, we came up with a list of the top 10 legislative races in Idaho. We used a simple yardstick, tallying up contributions during the latest filing period.

It isn’t a perfect snapshot. For example, it doesn’t account for cash on hand before the latest filing period, and it’s not uncommon for incumbent lawmakers to have tens of thousands of dollars in their war chest.

The reports offer a glimpse into the state of the campaign, four weeks before Election Day. They show where Idaho’s political action committees and legislative leaders are placing their wagers — and which races they take most seriously. Money talks, and in this case, it speaks to political priorities.

1. House Seat A, District 6: $51,776.

Rusche New
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, $28,456; Mike Kingsley, Republican, Lewiston, $23,320. Two years ago, Rusche defeated Kingsley by a mere 48 votes, earning a sixth term. As Kingsley takes another run at the House minority leader, he has campaign support from all four members of the House GOP leadership team: House Speaker Scott Bedke, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane and Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude. Rusche received support from some of Idaho’s big industry donors, such as Micron, the J.R. Simplot Co., and Potlatch.

District 6 takes in Lewis and Nez Perce counties. It is one of only three legislative districts with a bipartisan delegation.

2. House Seat A, District 26: $40,414.

Miller New
Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield

Kathleen Eder, Democrat, Hailey, $25,375; Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, $15,039. It is not surprising that Democrats are making a concerted run at this seat. Miller won a second House term in 2014 by only 126 votes. Miller has a seat on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

Democrats already hold the other two legislative seats in District 26, which takes in Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties.

3. House Seat B, District 5: $38,522.

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, $23,690; Laurene Sorensen, Democrat, Moscow, $14,832. Troy, seeking a second term, has secured support from Bedke, Vander Woude and several other House colleagues. Sorensen has raised most of her money in the Moscow area.

Taking in Benewah and Latah counties, District 5 also has a split delegation. Troy is the lone Republican in the delegation.

4. House Seat A, District 15: $35,944.

Steve Berch, Democrat, Boise. $21,297; Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, $14,467. Another rematch from 2014, when Luker was re-elected with 51.6 percent of the vote. Luker has donations from more than a dozen House Republicans. And while the Political Action Committee for Education was largely quiet in the most recent filing period, the Idaho Education Association’s PAC donated $1,000 to Berch.

Centered in West Boise, District 15 is the GOP’s last legislative stronghold in the capital city.

5. Senate, District 5: $33,352.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, $25,400; Dan Foreman, Republican, Moscow, $7,952. Schmidt also enjoys a big edge in cash on hand heading into the final weeks of the campaign. Schmidt is a physician who has been an outspoken advocate for Medicaid expansion; he also serves on JFAC.

6. House Seat A, District 1: $31,658

Heather Scott
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard

Kate McAllister, Democrat, Sandpoint, $16,831; Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, $14,827. Plenty of surprises in this race involving Scott — who, in her first term, has established herself as one of the Legislature’s most conservative contrarians. McAllister’s donors include Republican George Eskridge, a former District 1 legislator ousted in the 2014 primary. As the Associated Press reported this week, McAllister also received the endorsement of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group. Meanwhile, Democrats pulled a field rep out of District 1, claiming Scott supporters harassed their staffer.

District 1 is Idaho’s northernmost district, taking in Bonner and Boundary counties.

7. House Seat B, District 26: $29,988

Sally Toone, Democrat, Gooding, $21,213; Alexander Sutter, Republican, Richfield, $8,775. An open race to succeed retiring Rep. Donna Pence, a Gooding Democrat who served on the House Education Committee. Pence kicked precisely $1,043.37 into Toone’s campaign. Most of Sutter’s money came from Republican committees. He also received $1,000 from Bedke,

8. House Seat B, District 4: $29,308.

Paul Amador, Republican, Coeur d’Alene, $16,303; Tom Hearn, Democrat, Coeur d’Alene. $13,005. Amador ousted incumbent Rep. Kathleen Sims in the May 17 GOP primary. His backers include some prominent Coeur d’Alene Republicans, including former Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde and Senate Education Committee member Bob Nonini, Hearn sits on the Coeur d’Alene school board.

9. House Seat A, District 6: $28,865.

Thyra Stevenson, Republican, Lewiston, $14,830; Bob Blakey, Democrat, Lewiston, $14,035. In 2014, Stevenson lost re-election in the closest race of the year. Democrat Dan Rudolph defeated Stevenson by 26 votes, out of more than 12,400 votes cast. Rudolph did not seek re-election.

10. Senate, District 26: $27,176.

Sen. Michelle Stennett
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, $18,922; Dale Ewersen, Republican, Bellevue, $8,254. One more rematch. Stennett, the Senate’s minority leader, defeated Ewersen in 2014, picking up nearly 59 percent of the vote. She is finishing her third term in the Senate. Ewersen’s money comes largely from Republican groups in Twin Falls and Blaine counties.

Disclosure: Thyra Stevenson received a campaign contribution from the Idaho Land Fund. J.B. Scott is affiliated with the Idaho Land Fund. He is also board chairman of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which funds Idaho Education News.

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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