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National Democrats are backing this Idaho House candidate. Can they flip a Republican seat?

Mary Shea, a Democrat, is running in November against Republican Rep. Dustin Manwaring for District 29’s House seat A in Pocatello. | Courtesy Mary Shea
(Idaho Statesman) — A national wing of the Democratic Party that aims to regain seats from Republicans in state legislatures around the country has turned its focus on an eastern Idaho House race this fall.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has backed Mary Shea, who is a repeat candidate running for the District 29 position A seat, on its shortlist of key races in state legislatures for the November general election. The Democrats have chosen to challenge a powerful Republican House member in one of Idaho’s few swing districts.
Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, is caucus chair of the House GOP — the fourth-highest ranking position in the GOP caucus. Currently serving his third term, Manwaring is in one of Idaho’s few legislative districts where Democrats have recently been competitive against Republicans. The two other incumbents of District 29 — Rep. Nate Roberts and Sen. James Ruchti — are both Democrats.

Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello | Courtesy Dustin Manwaring
Shea is a civil rights and child welfare lawyer, according to a release from the DLCC, and lost a race against Manwaring in the 2022 general election by close to 4.5%. She is running “to support mental health resources in schools, remove unnecessary obstacles to voting, and rework Idaho’s extreme abortion ban that endangers pregnant patients’ lives.”
“I think it is important for people to understand that most folks in Idaho are not extreme,” Shea told the Idaho Statesman by phone. She said that while Republican and Democratic legislators in the Pocatello area often vote similarly, Republican lawmakers are beholden to a party that has lurched further to the right, and pushed for school voucher initiatives, a new law assigning civil liability to librarians, and the restrictive abortion bans. Those are all efforts she views as out of step with typical residents.
Manwaring in 2021 voted for Idaho’s “heartbeat” abortion law, which banned the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — before many women know they’re pregnant — and this year voted in a House committee to advance a bill that would send state funds to privately educated children. The bill failed. Manwaring also supported the bill to allow lawsuits against libraries over content deemed “harmful” to minors.
“They’re tied to a platform and tied to leadership that don’t always let them vote the way most Pocatellans would like them to vote,” Shea said. “Most people just want common sense government.”
Forty-four percent of Pocatello’s registered voters are Republicans, and 15% are Democrats, according to Idaho Secretary of State records. Thirty-nine percent of voters are unaffiliated.
Idaho Democrats have also worked in recent years to increase the number of candidates challenging Republicans across the state. And previous Idaho legislative candidates backed by the DLCC in recent years have won their elections.
The DLCC backed Ruchti’s Senate campaign two years ago, when he handily won and pulled in nearly $148,000 for that race, according to campaign finance records. The committee also supported Muffy Davis, a Ketchum Democrat running for the House, in 2018. Davis raised close to $80,000 that election and beat incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Miller.
Davis left the Legislature after her second term, to be replaced by Rep. Ned Burns, another Democrat, who won his race by 37 votes.
Idaho a ‘hotbed’ for extreme abortion laws
The backing from national Democrats often comes with more financial support from out of state. The DLCC raised $50 million and highlighted hundreds of candidates in the last midterm election, according to its spokesperson Samantha Paisley. The group aims to raise $60 million and spotlight 180 candidates this cycle. It raised nearly half of that goal as of April.
Shea said she hopes most of her donors will be from Idaho but that candidates battling far-right politics will need broad support.
“We cannot push back on the far right if we are not talking to people out of state and getting them to pay attention to what’s happening here,” she said.
As Democrats have in other races around the country, the DLCC is focusing on abortion to drive turnout. Idaho has some of the strictest abortion bans, with laws banning nearly all abortions outright, as well as a law that bans minors from leaving the state to obtain an abortion.
RELATED | Idaho law forced women out of state for abortions. They detail ‘grim’ experiences.
“Idaho has unfortunately become a hotbed for some of the most extreme Republican attacks on reproductive freedom. Republicans’ unchecked power in the Legislature has enabled them to veer towards the worst MAGA policies,” said DLCC President Heather Williams in a Thursday news release, referring to former President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “To stop these horrendous attacks on fundamental freedoms from taking form and spreading, building Democratic power across the country is essential.”
The DLCC’s strategy of focusing on abortion is not new. The organization set out in 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, to take advantage of broad support for abortion rights, national polling showed, in tight races challenging Republicans. In addition to gaining control of state legislatures in purple states, the Democratic outfit aims to win in competitive districts in Republican-leaning strongholds.
National Democrats target ‘one seat at a time’
District 29 includes most of Pocatello. Prior to redistricting after the 2020 census, the district included a swath of rural Bannock County to the south. The district has had competitive races between Democrats and Republicans for decades, according to legislative records.
Ruchti, who previously held one of the district’s House seats, beat out a Republican by 174 votes in 2006, the same year Democratic Sen. Diane Bilyeu was also elected in the district, according to Idaho Secretary of State records. Ruchti was later elected to the Senate.
Manwaring was elected to an open House seat in 2016, then lost re-election to a Democrat in 2018. He easily won the seat back again four years ago.
In the 2022 election, he beat Shea by 644 votes.
Manwaring told the Statesman in an email that he will “work hard to earn and keep the respect of voters again.”
He said his campaign has emphasized “conservative budgeting, low tax burdens, and fiscal responsibility,” particularly how policies impact families and small businesses and whether there are “viable alternatives” other than government action.
“I often campaign independently and have not tied myself to other campaigns in the primary or general elections,” he said. “I believe this has helped demonstrate a level of political autonomy that is attractive to constituents in Pocatello.”
Republicans control all statewide offices in Idaho and have a supermajority in the Legislature: Out of 105 lawmakers at the Capitol, 18 are Democrats. Republicans also control more legislatures across the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Majorities are made one seat at a time,” the organization wrote in a 2022 memo. “We’ll invest anywhere there’s a competitive district to build towards winning more majorities later in the decade.”
The post National Democrats are backing this Idaho House candidate. Can they flip a Republican seat? appeared first on East Idaho News.

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