Rep. Tom Loertscher has been a fixture of the Idaho House from Eastern Idaho since he was first elected in 1986. He lost a House race in 2002 but won his seat back in 2004, and is now the chair of House State Affairs Committee.
He lost his primary race in May to fellow Republican Chad Christensen by 139 votes.
Christensen is a small business owner. He served in the Army and in law enforcement. He focused his primary challenge on gun bills that Loertscher had held in his committee, stating on his website: “My opponent has systematically blocked pro-gun legislation.”
Christensen also fancies himself a “patriot”, aligning himself with the hard-right Freedom Caucus in both substance and rhetoric. On his website he notes:
I have a strong desire to stay true to my principles of protecting God-given rights. These rights are supposed to be protected in the U.S. Constitution. However, these rights are trampled on day-after-day. They are trampled on by individuals and groups in this country. Unfortunately, the biggest culprits are the Idaho and federal governments.
Loertscher is not giving up, having recently announced a write-in campaign for the November general election saying, “I believe I can still make a valuable contribution.”
It was a three-way contest in that Christensen was also opposed by another write-in candidate, Ralph Mossman of Driggs, who ran as a Democrat against Loertscher in 2012. But, Mossman has suspended his campaign to give Loertscher a clear shot.
Gov. Butch Otter has weighed in, backing Loertscher. Christensen belittled Otter’s endorsement, calling it “swampish”.
This particular legislative district is vast. It stretches from the Utah border nearly to Montana and encompasses six East Idaho counties in total, including a sparsely populated part of Bonneville County.
Still, a write-in campaign is a long shot. Some have been successful around the country, but not many. The most prominent was a write-in win by United States Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska in 2010.
But, Idaho has some substantive barriers to a Loertscher win.
According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Election Training Manual, for a write-in vote to be counted it must meet two key criteria: 1) The voter must identify the correct office that the write-in candidate has filed for and 2) The voter must provide the surname for the voter.
Those dual requirements make Loertscher’s task much harder. First, a voter wanting to vote for him needs to identify his office — State Representative Seat B. Then they need to spell out his rather difficult last name. If the county does use optical scanning (I believe most Idaho counties do), all of that must be handwritten. If the county does not use that method, a sticker can be applied. Stickers would be beneficial to Loertscher as they could include both bits of information.
One advantage that Loertscher may have is a spending advantage. In the primary election Loertscher outspent Christensen roughly five-to-one. If he can use his chairman position and raise a significant war-chest, that may close the margin. Christensen’s latest report shows only $335.83 in the bank.
Keep an eye out for the very interesting Christensen-Loertscher contest on election night.