Given Idaho’s political history, it would be tough to bet against Sen. Mike Crapo’s bid to win a third term against Democratic challenger Jerry Sturgill.
Crapo has a fixture in Congress since 1993 and Sturgill is making his first run for office. Crapo is flush with money and has an all-star cast of strategists, advisers, and media experts. Sturgill, by comparison, is trying to race in a NASCAR event with a beat-up Toyota.
The last Idaho Democrat to hold a U.S. Senate seat was Frank Church, and that was 36 years ago. A few big-name Democrats have run for the Senate over the years, including former Gov. John Evans and former Congressman Richard Stallings, but Republicans have proven to be too strong.
But there’s one guy who is betting some big money on Sturgill pulling the upset … and that’s Sturgill himself. He has put $240,000 into his campaign, with a genuine belief that he can win. But don’t take his word for it. Check out what Crapo is saying.
“We have a serious Democratic opponent,” Crapo says in a fund-raising newsletter. “He’s a corporate lawyer and investment banker with strong connections in New York City where he used to work and has the potential for attracting vast sums of money from his left-wing network. He’s as liberal as I am conservative.”
Challengers are always happy when they are attacked by incumbents. Crapo’s “fighting words” have given Sturgill some instant credibility.
“I’ve done the math,” Sturgill says. “There are enough votes here in Idaho without having to depend on the Republican base. But even the Republican base is disrupted and thinking real hard about whether this is the same Republican Party of even four years ago when Mitt Romney was the nominee for president.”
At least one poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C., gives Sturgill a reasonable shot at winning. That poll has Crapo two percentage points ahead (37-35) with 25 percent undecided. The pollster cites Crapo’s “low job performance rating” as a reason for the closeness.
“Crapo is upside down in job performance, with 48 percent of voters saying that he is doing just fair or a poor job (41 percent say he is doing an excellent or a good job). Independents are especially unhappy with the job Crapo is doing as senator.”
That’s reading a lot in a poll of 500 people. But the appearance of a tight race serves as a nice rallying cry for Sturgill’s supporters – and Crapo’s for that matter – to let people know that it’s “game on” in this year’s Senate race.
Sturgill is latching onto familiar themes for challengers, but they may have more bite in this topsy-turvy election cycle. Sturgill talks about gridlock, Congress’ low job performance rating and says that Crapo is part of the problem. Sturgill also paints Crapo as a tool for special interests, which is another point that challengers typically make against long-time incumbents.
“If Congress were a board of directors of a company I was running, I would have cleared the place out by now and started all over,” he said. “It’s time for people in government to know how to work with other people to get things done.”
Crapo is in line to climb the ladder of the Senate Banking Committee if he wins re-election and Republicans keep a majority in the Senate. But Sturgill, who once worked with a New York law firm involved with banking and finance, is not impressed.
“Idaho is not a banking state,” says Sturgill, a Twin Falls native. “We’re an agriculture state … a small business state … an aspiring technology state … a working family state. We’re at the bottom of most lists when it comes to education and economic development.”
Sturgill, who gives passing support for Hillary Clinton, is making a big issue of Crapo’s support for Donald Trump in the presidential race. Sturgill views Trump as “the biggest threat to this country, other than war. I think he is one of the biggest internal threats we have ever faced.”
Sturgill, a Mormon, says Trump is roundly disliked in the LDS community – a factor that could make the race in Idaho tighter than expected.
Hearing Crapo and Sturgill defend flawed presidential candidates could provide some entertaining moments in a debate, but it won’t be the only reason for Idahoans to watch.
Sturgill, to his credit, is making a race out of it.