Former Republican State Sen. Russ Fulcher, the self-proclaimed frontrunner in the First District congressional primary race, often is asked how he would get along with Second District Congressman Mike Simpson.
He may have been wondering that himself before his recent visit with the veteran congressman. In Fulcher’s view, it’s all thumbs up as far as building a constructive relationship. A quick howdy-do turned into a lengthy conversation between the two men, with Fulcher describing the session as congenial and productive.
“We will be able to work well together,” Fulcher says. “As I told Congressman Simpson, we served in the Idaho Legislature during different eras, but we were elected to leadership positions by our peers (Simpson was a former House speaker and Fulcher was a former Republican caucus chair in the Senate). You don’t serve in a leadership position in Idaho if you are a bomb-thrower.”
In other words, Fulcher is no Raul Labrador, either in personality and approach. That in itself is a decent foundation for working with Simpson. And although Fulcher has been endorsed by Labrador and top leadership of the House Freedom Caucus – which was instrumental in driving out Simpson’s good friends as House speaker (John Boehner) -- Fulcher is making no guarantees that he will join the conservative caucus if he is elected.
Another potential strike against Fulcher is that he has been endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who it’s safe to say isn’t on Simpson’s “birthday wishes” list. But at least Fulcher is on speaking terms with Simpson, which is a contrast from the frosty relationship between Simpson and Labrador.
It’s noteworthy that while Labrador has endorsed Fulcher for Congress, the former state senator has not returned the favor in Labrador’s bid for Idaho governor. There’s no mystery about the reason. Some of Fulcher’s supporters were livid over Labrador elbowing Fulcher out of this year’s governor’s race, and Fulcher has kept his distance from Labrador since then.
There could be some fallout for Fulcher by keeping his distance. Labrador has plenty of fans in the First District – people who like what their congressman has done to shake up Washington and take on the tax-and-spend mentality that is so much a part of congressional politics. Some of Labrador’s supporters see it as a good thing that he has a rocky relationship with Simpson, who regularly votes for bloated spending bills. Labrador’s fan club may not like the idea of replacing their swashbuckling congressman with someone who is more friendly toward getting along and going along with established politicians.
Then, there are those who are more than happy to say “good riddance” to the Labrador era in Congress – people who see practically anybody as an improvement for the First District seat.
As for this primary race, Fulcher says his internal poll shows he has a commanding double-digit lead, with 24 percent of likely primary voters supporting him. Former Lt. Gov. David Leroy checks in at 12 percent, with the other five candidates in low single digits.
Of course, the poll surveyed just 400 people and almost half of those (49 percent) are undecided. This hardly sends a signal to Fulcher’s opponents to start preparing concession speeches. Leroy, who recently released his internal poll that showed him with a slight lead, calls this a two-man race between him and Fulcher.
State Reps. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene and Christy Perry of Nampa think the race still is wide open, and they’re probably right if there are around 50 percent of voters undecided. The governor’s races on both party tickets have sucked out most of the political air, and media attention, in this election cycle. People may be undecided up to the primary election day – if they bother to vote at all.
Fulcher has some advantages. He has been the first one to run widely circulated television ads, and the national Club for Growth – the sugar daddy in this race – is running more ads right up to May 15. So, Fulcher has all the reasons to be optimistic.
But now that he has declared himself as a decisive frontrunner, the target on his back gets bigger. This race is a long way from being over.