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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Russ Fulcher wins Idaho GOP primary to replace Labrador in Congress

Former state Sen. Russ Fulcher participates in a debate at the studios of Idaho Public Television in Boise on April 29, 2018. Fulcher won a crowded Republican primary Tuesday, May 15, 2018, for an open seat in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)
By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE – With an open seat in Congress at stake, former state Sen. Russ Fulcher easily captured the Republican nomination for the position held by Raul Labrador.

Real estate agent Cristina McNeil won a three-way race among Democrats and will face Fulcher in November.

The seat representing Idaho’s 1st Congressional District is open because Labrador, now in his fourth term in Congress, chose to run for governor this year rather than seek re-election.

Fulcher had 44.2 percent of the vote with 488 of 952 precincts reporting. Each of his opponents had less than 20 percent of the vote.

The competition was fierce in the seven-way Republican primary, with two current state representatives, a former Idaho lieutenant governor and attorney general, and Fulcher, who took 43.6 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful primary challenge to Gov. Butch Otter four years ago, in the mix, along with a conservative blogger and author from Bonners Ferry, a recently retired Army lieutenant colonel from Nampa and a pilot from Post Falls.

“That’s going to happen any time you have an open seat,” Fulcher said. “If we’re fortunate enough to prevail, I hope to have the support of everyone else in that race.”

Fulcher, 56, is a real estate broker and former high-tech executive for Micron Technology who served five terms in the state Senate, including six years as majority caucus chair.

He credited his recent statewide run for governor for his support.

“Those relationships stuck, and they were real,” Fulcher said. “I had an advantage as a result of that. I didn’t take it for granted, and I won’t let those people down.”

David Leroy, who was running second in the race, served as Idaho’s attorney general and lieutenant governor in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He hasn’t been on an Idaho ballot since losing to Helen Chenoweth in the GOP primary for the same congressional seat in 1994, but said he was prompted to try a comeback at age 70 by the election of Donald Trump as president.

“He’s a change agent, and if we put conservative legislation in front of him, he’ll sign it,” said Leroy, an attorney. “The job of the Congress is to get back to work and create conservative legislation.”

Reps. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Christy Perry, R-Nampa, both waged spirited campaigns for the seat – and clashed repeatedly during this year’s legislative session as they came down on opposing sides of issues, including criminal sentencing and health care.

Malek, 36, a Coeur d’Alene attorney and former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor, cited his successful work in the Legislature to fund community crisis centers around the state, extend broadband to rural school districts and increase certain criminal penalties. He lined up endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police and Professional Firefighters of Idaho.

The Democratic primary race was lower-key, with only James Vandermaas, 60, a retired police officer from Eagle, raising substantial campaign funding during the primary race. But amid a swell of Democratic turnout and excitement over the gubernatorial candidacy of Paulette Jordan, Cristina McNeil, who traveled the district campaigning in the final weeks, won the primary.

McNeil, 51, is a real estate agent and leads the Idaho Democratic Party’s Latino Caucus.

Running third in the Democratic race was Michael William Smith, 39, an Iraq War veteran from Post Falls.