- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - House Minority Leader John Rusche says his campaign sent out political mailers boasting that a free-market think tank ranked him as one of the most conservative Democratic lawmakers in the state.

However, the mailers do not mention that the Idaho Freedom Foundation gave Rusche an F- this year.

“Is it misleading? It is what it is,” Rusche told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday. “The Idaho Freedom Foundation has pushed that I have an F- ranking. It just shows that you can look at the same data and spin it a different way.”

The foundation releases its ranking - called the Freedom Index - of Idaho’s 105 lawmakers every year. Legislators are docked for approving any bills that the group perceives as growing government, raising taxes or restricting free market practices.

This year, just nine lawmakers received an A grade or higher, with the majority of them representing northern Idaho legislative districts near Rusche.

“John Rusche may claim he is more conservative than most of his Democratic legislative colleagues but that is faint praise,” said Fred Bimbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, in a prepared statement.

Bimbaum pointed out that not only did Rusche score low on their Freedom Index, but also on the American Conservative Union score, which gave Rusche a 19 percent rating while Idaho House Republicans gained an average of 72 percent.

The mailer, sent to targeted Republican voters in District 6, reads that Rusche was rated as the “third most conservative Democrat. Even more conservative than some Republicans.”

The majority of Idaho lawmakers receive a failing grade each year, which creates an annual criticism from both Democrats and Republicans that the list isn’t a fair grade of their work during the legislative session because it punishes lawmakers who even approve even the most benign bills.

This includes Rusche, who has openly criticized the group for its influence over lawmakers afraid of making a poor grade on the freedom index.

Yet Rusche added that a Democrat in Idaho can’t describe himself as liberal if he wants to win.

“You have to admit that my record would not be considered a liberal Democrat in Washington, California or even Colorado,” Rusche said.

Rusche is running in one of the toughest legislative races in Idaho against Republican challenger Mike Kingsley -who was just 48 votes shy of ousting Rusche in 2014. The fight over control for one of the state’s rare swing districts has resulted in heavy spending from outside groups and setting up campaign field offices to encourage voters to turn out to the polls.

In Republican-dominant Idaho, Democrats often face an uphill battle convincing voters to swing left. It’s not unusual for Democratic candidates to omit their party’s affiliation on campaign material in order to woo potential voters.

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