- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Three first-time Democratic candidates are running for congressional seats in Idaho, but they face an uphill battle in convincing voters to swing left in a Republican-dominant state.

While Idaho Democratic party officials can often find candidates run for office, Democrats struggle to pull close races. The last Democrat to hold a House seat in Idaho was in 2009 when former U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick won the state’s 1st Congressional District. Idaho hasn’t had a Democratic senator since Frank Church won in 1951.

Furthermore, along with Idaho’s congressional delegation, every top political office in the Gem State is held by Republicans.

Here’s a look at the three races.

- SENATE

This is the first campaign U.S. Mike Crapo has run since pleading guilty to a drunken driving charge three years ago. After the conviction, Crapo apologized and said he’s sworn off alcohol.

Yet Democratic opponent Jerry Sturgill has pointed to the incident as one of the key reasons he chose to run against the three-term senator because he believes working in Washington D.C. has changed Crapo for the worse.

Both men are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which bans consuming alcohol. About a quarter of Idaho’s population subscribes to the Mormon faith.

Though this is the first time Sturgill has entered into politics, he has managed to raise more than $500,000 - about half came from his own pockets and the other half coming from coming large donations.

Meanwhile, Crapo started the race with nearly $5 million in the bank. The Republican has recently seen an uptick in financial support from banking firms as Crapo could possibly become the chair of the Senate’s banking committee next year.

Crapo, who is seeking a fourth term, rescinded his support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump a day after the release of a video with Trump making lewd comments about women. But on Oct. 14 during a debate hosted by Idaho Public Television, Crapo said he had not decided whether he would vote for Trump or not. Crapo says he has only decided not vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Sturgill says he supports Clinton.

- HOUSE-DISTRICT 1

U.S. Raul Labrador is running for re-election against Democratic candidate James Piotrowski, a Boise attorney.

Piotrowski has been highly critical of Labrador’s voting record during his past two terms in Congress. He focuses primarily on Labrador’s tendency to vote no on appropriation bills and accuses the congressman of refusing to compromise.

Labrador counters that he has maintained his promise to lower the federal debt and to halt unnecessary government growth. Labrador has also stood by his endorsement of Trump - even though he readily admits the GOP nominee was not his first choice - because of the impact that would have on the currently open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Piotrowski is one of the rare Idaho Democratic challengers who raised more money during the most recent quarter than his GOP opponent. According to campaign reports, Piotrowski raised roughly $122,000 for the quarter, compared to $102,000 for the three-term incumbent.

Labrador hasn’t said that will be his last term if he wins. The tea party favorite, in both Idaho and across the nation, said he plans on deciding to run for governor after Nov. 8.

The 1st District covers all of northern Idaho and snakes along the west side of Boise to the Nevada border.

- HOUSE-DISTRICT 2

The quietest of all the congressional races is between U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and first-time candidate Jennifer Martinez, a community advocate from Twin Falls.

Martinez has remained low on the radar, especially as the November election nears. She has raised a modest $15,000 while on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, Simpson has raised just under $1 million.

Earlier this year, Martinez’s campaign failed to turn in the necessary paperwork to qualify her for the state’s biggest televised debate between the two candidates. Sturgill and Piotrowski also failed to turn the required documents, but Martinez and Simpson are the only candidates to not reschedule a new debate.

Simpson never endorsed Trump, but has recently said that he believes Trump is unfit to be president and can’t support him. Martinez has given donations to Clinton’s campaign.

The 2nd District encompasses the eastern half of the state and is home to farms and ranches, the Idaho National Laboratory nuclear facility, and the churches and temples representing a strong presence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


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