Recently a friend posted to my Facebook wall a post from Democratic Congressional candidate Nicole Lefavour arguing that she could win her race against GOP incumbent Mike Simpson. Simpson is a former Speaker of the Idaho state House and has represented Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District since 2000. Lefavour is a former 4 term state legislator for the 19th Legislative District.
The article cites several reasons why Lefavour can win, 1) new Congressional boundaries, 2) quality of the challenger, 3) Lefavour’s name ID, 4) enthusiasm for her candidacy, 5) fundraising and 6) her lesbian orientation is conducive to helping her win Mormon votes. I will address each of these points below.
1. Decennial redistricting made the 2nd CD slightly more Democratic: The 1st CD had to shed population and as a result the 2nd picked up more of metro Boise, including parts of the 16, 17th and 18th districts as well as keeping the 19th. The 16th and 17th legislative districts only have Democratic legislators and the swing 18th as a split delegation. So somehow this makes the district competitive combined with the 19th legislative district ,Teton, Blaine and Twin Falls Counties. Oh if only it were true. Keep in mind this is a presidential election year. Thus it is important to look at 2008 to see how Democratic Boise is. Even in the best year for Democrats in recent presidential history Obama managed to lose Ada County by six points, though all Democratic legislators in the county won reelection. This is important to keep in mind because Ada County includes the 16th, 17th and 18th districts and McCain’s legislative profile is similar to Simpson’s. Blaine, Teton and Twin Falls Counties also have always been in the 2nd District. Yet Simpson has been able to win his district with 70% of the vote since his initial run in 2000. This means that Simpson has run well in those counties since 2000. Exit polls from 2008 and 2010 show Simpson easily won Democratic Blaine County and swing Teton and Twin Falls counties by double digits. In short, it does not look like redistricting has changed the partisan composition of the district that much, if at all.
2: Name Recognition in Eastern Idaho: This is a hard theory to put to the test let alone prove. Lefavour is a known figure in metro Boise but outside of it, it is hard to say with certainty she really has name ID in Eastern Idaho. Her work on mental health and opposition to Luna’s education reform laws notwithstanding, her exposure to Easter Idaho voters short of this year appears limited. Simpson on the other hand has business and agricultural ties to the district dating back before he first ran in 2000. That is a lot longer time for Simpson to build deep ties with the district’s voters than Lefavour who has only represented a deeply liberal legislative district in the foothills of Boise.
Enthusiasm: Lefavour claims her campaign has established rolls of volunteers and field offices. In turn this is supposed to help her campaign convince both moderate Republicans and Independents she is better than Simpson. Here is what Lefavour runs up against however. Voters know Simpson’s record. They like his record. How is Lefavour’s campaign going to change that. How is Lefavour’s camp, for example, going to somehow convince 2nd District voters that they should not like Simpson’s stance on the EPA, or energy, or fiscal policy? Keep in mind Simpson has kept a moderately conservative profile in the House.
Fundraising: Lefavour claims her fundraising is amazing. In truth for a challenger to Simpson she is right that it is impressive. However, Simpson is sitting on an almost $2 million war-chest. Lefavour’s campaign claims it can raise as much as $400,000 and outside groups will help her. That is questionable. Outside groups have better races to spend their money on than a long-shot race in Idaho. And $400,000 is not nearly equal to what Simpson can and likely will spend if the race gets competitive. Currently Lefavour has only $160,000 in the bank.
Sexual Orientation: Lefavour claims that her sexual orientation will make her appealing to both Mormon and Boise voters. I would assume she would be more popular to the latter than the former. It almost seems disingenuous to claim that voters will focus on her sexual orientation and not other more pressing issues in November. And if that game is played Simpson can easily counter his Mormon beliefs endear him to Mormon voters. Romney’s recent performances among Mormons in NV, CO and AZ certainly show Mormon voters will back a Mormon candidate, regardless of who the challengers are or is. Voters are likely to focus on liberal agenda and be turned away in droves.
There are other reasons why Lefavour is a long-shot to win the race. Ideologically she is out of step with the district’s voters, whether they be swing Teton County voters, pro business Blaine County Democrats or moderate Republicans. Obama being at the top of the ticket is sure to drag down her numbers. If Obama could only win Blaine County in SE Idaho in 2008 what does it say about him being able to help Lefavour in 2012? In the end he could not even help Simpson’s challenger in 2008 carry the county. Lefavour in some ways resembles Congressman Mike Sali (R-ID) of 2008. She can be aloof and off-putting and has made enemies with some of her stances on legislative issues. And contrary to her campaign’s declaration her sexual orientation could help her it is just as likely to hurt her among socially conservative Mormon voters, not help her.
Democrats have plenty of chances to pick up seats this year. But the 2nd Congressional District of Idaho is not one of them.