By Betsy Z. Russell
As a record TV audience tuned in for the first presidential debate this week, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and his Democratic challenger, Jerry Sturgill, both launched new TV campaign commercials.
Crapo’s ad, his second of the campaign, focuses on his work to help an eastern Idaho lumber company in a dispute with the Forest Service, saying he’s “been extremely instrumental in providing jobs.” Sturgill’s focuses on equal pay for women, calling it an Idaho value and faulting Crapo for voting against two equal-pay related measures in 2009 and 2014 that were backed by Democrats in the Senate.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus, called it “politically a smart move” for the two to debut their new ads on a night when far more people than usual tuned into TV with politics on their mind, “guaranteeing a huge audience.”
But Crapo’s ad was aired much more widely; it’s running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market. Sturgill’s first ad ran only that evening in Boise.
“We selected this ad because it demonstrates Jerry’s commitment to treating people equally,” said Lucas Henken, Sturgill’s political director. “There is a clear contrast.”
The ad ran as people were watching the first presidential debate in which a woman was one of the major-party nominees, as Democrat Hillary Clinton debated Republican Donald Trump.
Sturgill has been highly critical of Crapo for endorsing Trump. “The debate was the first time that Idahoans and all of America were able to see the two candidates stand side by side,” Henken said. “It was clear Monday night, as it has been throughout this election, that Trump does not support women or women’s issues. Crapo endorsed Trump, and thus, is endorsing his policy positions and his stance on women’s issues.”
Asked if equal pay is Sturgill’s top issue, Henken said, “Jerry’s top priority is finding collaborative and efficient solutions to issues facing Idaho. This includes equal pay, growing our economy, protecting our public lands, and improving the education system at all levels.”
Weatherby said the ad wasn’t a typical one for a first-time candidate who’s struggling for name recognition against a well-known incumbent. “When is Jerry Sturgill going to introduce himself?” Weatherby asked. “Name I.D. is a big issue here. And his first ad has something not do to with him, but with specific pieces of legislation.”
Crapo’s ad, which replaces the one he’d been running focusing on his concerns about the federal debt, features lots of views of a lumber operation at work, but little explanation of how Crapo helped out the mill owner. “I don’t know how many people in general are going to relate to it,” Weatherby said. However, “It is a specific example of constituent service,” which he said is an important part of the job for any member of Congress, from any state.
“It sends a general message, I think, that’s positive, but not nearly as effective as his first ad,” Weatherby said.
Crapo’s campaign said he’s made it a priority to provide service and advocacy for constituents, including small businesses, that are affected by actions of the federal government.
“Unfortunately, small business owners like Brad Jensen often face considerable challenges that can hinder their ability to succeed due to … government red tape,” Crapo said in a news release. “I will continue fighting for policy changes that better enable Idaho’s small businesses to thrive by reducing federal regulation, fixing our broken tax code and changing the culture of the government to one that helps businesses create jobs and grow our economy.”
The ad also subtly suggests that Crapo is supportive of the timber industry in general. It never mentions logging, using only the words “raw materials” to refer to logs.
Sturgill is a Boise businessman who’s making his first run for office. Crapo is Idaho’s senior senator and is seeking a fourth six-year term, after serving three terms in the U.S. House and four in the Idaho state Senate.