Across the country, so many Democrats are getting into runs for Congress that some party leaders are worried about getting swamped with competitive primary contests.
In one suburban Chicago district, nine Democrats have filed to run against a Republican U.S. House incumbent. As of the end of June, the number of Democratic House challengers nationally who had raised at least $5,000 by then – indicating at least some level of seriousness in campaigning – was 209. That’s an abnormally large number. In this century, the previous comparable record for a challenging party was held by the Republicans in 2009, just ahead of their 2010 sweep – and in that year, Republicans had 78 comparable candidates.
We’re more than a year away from the November 2018 election, and many conditions can change between here and there. But at the moment, Democrats nationally are looking very much the way they did in 2006, the way Republicans did in 2010 and 2014.
Just west of the Idaho state line, the massive Oregon second House district, where veteran Republican Representative Greg Walden has usually won with numbers like those of his Idaho counterparts, has drawn four Democratic challengers so far, at least a couple of whom look to be serious contenders. In Washington’s fifth district (centered on Spokane), where the seat is held by Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a string of Democratic candidates has emerged, topped this week by veteran former state Senator Majority Leader Lisa Brown.
In Idaho … not so much.
There’s one structural element to this. Idaho won’t have a Senate election next year – Jim Risch is up in 2020 (and says he’s running again) and Mike Crapo in 2022. That diminishes, a little, interest in Idaho congressional races. But both U.S. House seats will have an election, and one of them will be open, meaning no incumbent will be on the ballot.
Republicans are in the field. Incumbent Mike Simpson in the second district (with maybe another primary challenge, though there’s not yet an FEC trace of one). In the first, where the seat is open owing to incumbent Raul Labrador’s run for governor, at least three prospects are at work.
So far, as best I could determine, there’s no significant activity toward a Democratic candidacy in the second district. A candidate from that party eventually may file and be on the ballot next year, but for now you have to suspect he or she will be a placeholder, there mainly to preserve options in the unlikely event Simpson lost a Republican primary.
The Federal Election Commission does have a filing in the first district for Democrat Michael William Smith of Post Falls, but no financial activity is reported. Smith has a Facebook web page, but not much is reported there by way of campaign activity.
Democrats may wind up with more than a placeholder in the first. A leader in the Indivisible group (which is untested but looks to be highly energetic and active in some places) in Ada County is said to be interested. And a few other names have been batted around, including a couple from Idaho’s panhandle, which hasn’t produced a member of Congress in a very long time.
Former state Senator Dan Schmidt of Moscow has been mentioned (by fellow columnist Chris Carlson, among others) as a prospect for governor; the first district spot might be a more logical fit.
But candidates are not bursting through the woodwork (one Democrat suggested to me that there is no woodwork). And as early in the cycle is this still is – unusually early for most candidates to jump in, by normal schedules in the past – that right now makes Idaho an outlier in the national political picture.