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Mike Crapo may have the safest seat in the Senate, but four challengers want to give Idaho voters a choice

Oct. 7, 2022 Updated Sun., Oct. 9, 2022 at 8:13 a.m.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate David Roth, right, debates with incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, center, and independent challenger Scott Cleveland on Monday during Idaho Public Television’s debate in Boise.  (Darin Oswald)
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate David Roth, right, debates with incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, center, and independent challenger Scott Cleveland on Monday during Idaho Public Television’s debate in Boise. (Darin Oswald)

WASHINGTON – Since Mike Crapo was first elected to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate in 1998, he has never faced a serious challenge. While he appears likely to coast to a fifth term in office in the Nov. 8 election, four challengers hope an unusual set of circumstances give them an opening for an upset.

Crapo’s opponents are Democrat David Roth of Idaho Falls, independent Scott Cleveland of Garden City, Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz of Coeur d’Alene and a Libertarian from Pocatello who goes by the name of Idaho Law.

During his 24 years in the Senate, Crapo has made his way to some of the most influential committees in the upper chamber, where he has carved out a role as a staunch conservative who is nevertheless willing to work with Democrats to craft legislation.

“I believe that I have been very consistent and very aggressive in pursuing the protection of our Constitution and the protection of our free markets and the protection of our personal freedoms,” Crapo said, while adding that he has also worked to develop “the reputation and the personal respect from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to know that I am someone who can be trusted, whose word is good, and who they can work with.”

To Cleveland, a financial adviser who is running for office for the first time, Crapo’s willingness to vote last year for a bipartisan bill to spend about $550 billion to modernize U.S. infrastructure was a bridge too far.

“That was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Cleveland said of Crapo’s vote on the infrastructure bill, recalling the turning point that came in his garden on a Saturday in November 2021.

“I had a talk with my tomatoes,” he said. “I had a talk with my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. And then after dinner and a movie, I had a talk with the boss – my wife, Kathy, of 33 years – and I said, ‘You know what, the country is getting worse. You can see it and feel it day by day. And I want to run in this race.’ ”

Crapo has a massive fundraising advantage over his opponents, with $5.6 million on hand at the end of June, but Cleveland said he sees a low-budget path to victory by pulling roughly a third of votes while Roth takes another third, edging Crapo narrowly.

Roth has a similar vision of a potential upset win, but he said his campaign began with more modest goals.

“There are so many groups out there that get left behind, that get left out of the conversation, because every politician in this state seems to be chasing the same sort of moderate Republican voter,” Roth said. “So when I got into this race, my original thought was I just want to be a voice for all of these disaffected people. Never in a million years did I think it would actually have the effect that it’s had.”

Roth, who directs a nonprofit in his hometown of Idaho Falls, said he has been surprised by the support he has received – not only from traditionally Democratic voters, but also from conservative women who have told him they plan to vote for him because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June that overturned the federal right to abortion.

“Prior to the Dobbs decision, I didn’t really think that I had a path to victory,” Roth said.

In addition to the abortion issue, Roth said Idaho voters have been upset by Crapo’s “no” votes on bills that would have subsidized the U.S. semiconductor industry, provided health care to veterans exposed to toxic burns pits in overseas wars and capped the price seniors pay for insulin. Crapo also has opted out of a new congressional earmark process that could have brought federal funds to Idaho.

“I think any one or two of those things would probably not be enough to give us the edge that we need,” Roth said, “but all of those together just might create the perfect storm where we can make this happen.”

Ray Writz has run for office several times, always winning a small percentage of votes, and said his goal in running again is “mainly to send a message to voters that maybe you might want to consider a third party as a counterbalance.” In an interview, he expressed frustration that Crapo did not publicly oppose pandemic measures imposed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican.

Attempts to reach Idaho Law were unsuccessful.

Crapo said a race with candidates across the political spectrum is nothing new for Idaho and he has approached this race the same way he has in past years. While he looks at the Idaho electorate as three general categories – Democratic-aligned, Republican-aligned and independent – he said a broad majority of Idahoans “hold to very consistent principles about basic conservatism.”

November’s election will demonstrate whether Idahoans are still satisfied with that approach. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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