A long-held principle in electoral politics: Until the votes are counted, there are no absolutes – no 100 percent chance of winning, no zero percent chance of losing. Even in a race that looks like a slam dunk, there’s a little room for long-shot possibility.
So the newly-posted Facebook page from 2nd district Democratic challenger Nicole LeFavour, “Why Nicole can win,” makes for provocative reading. Widespread wisdom is that six-term Republican incumbent Mike Simpson is solidly positioned for a seventh term; is there an argument to the contrary? (Bearing in mind, it would be political malpractice for her not to pitch one.)
To start: Idaho’s congressional districts change this year, and the second now includes more of Boise than before, including nearly all its Democratic-leaning voters. “Some consider this district stronger for Democrats than Idaho’s first congressional district was when Walt Minnick was elected to U.S. Congress in 2008.” Maybe. But Minnick won in unusual conditions, and lost two years later.
Second, “Mike Simpson simply has never faced a democratic opponent who is both well funded and well organized. He has grown comfortable without a challenger for so many years and has spent much of his time out of state, his responses to constituent letters growing less and less personal.” The second point is a matter of perspective, but as to the first, Simpson has had serious opponents. He was held to 52% in his first 1998 run against former Representative Richard Stallings, and Simpson’s weakest re-elect in the last decade, 62%, was against former legislator and ace organizer Jim Hansen.
“Few people realize the level of name recognition and support Nicole has in Eastern Idaho where her work leading efforts to stop Tom Luna's efforts to replace teachers with lap tops made her a familiar face and leader for thousands of teachers and parents.” She may get some help there, but remember: Luna won the district in a landslide in 2010, and the region has many legislators who backed his school change efforts.
LaFavour is a good fundraiser, at “almost $160,000 so far.” But: Simpson’s cash intake, as of June 30, was $955,982. Much of that has been spent, but he easily could raise more. She is a hard-working and strong campaigner, better than most – but not all – of her predecessor challengers.
The page rousts the elephant in the room: “For those who ask, can a gay person win, especially in eastern Idaho? Remember LDS families have gay kids too. ... While there may remain dwindling tension over the issue of marriage, animosity toward gay people generally is quickly vanishing.” This is a wild card, but there are factors in play before you even get to it. LeFavour is a relatively liberal, north Boise Democrat campaigning in a district where most voters routinely support very different candidates. Presidential years in Idaho usually help Republicans. There’s literally nothing in the last two decades of Idaho voting history in the second district to argue for an upset.
Suggesting though – leaving aside the horse race – some real utility in her run. Instead of encountering a Democrat running as Republican-lite, or quickly forgettable, eastern Idahoans will be getting some world-view expansion. LeFavour is working hard introducing herself to people who rarely see or hear from anyone like her. In parts of Idaho where cultural norms and demographics are tightly limited, she could create a small revolution – an awareness of more than one way to look at things poliltically. Which may be a radical concept in some parts of the Gem State.