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Several of Idaho’s leading politicians decline to debate opponents. Here’s who’s in, out

Incumbent Republican Gov. Brad Little | Courtesy Idaho Statesman
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Incumbent Republican Gov. Brad Little and Idaho’s two sitting U.S. House members have declined to participate in the traditional Idaho Debates, while four other televised discussions for statewide offices scheduled next month will take place ahead of November’s general election.
Little’s choice follows a similar decision in April, when he refused to publicly engage with GOP opponents in a televised contest while making his case to the state’s Republican voters before May’s primary election. With almost 53% of the vote, Little, 68, defeated seven other candidates, including his nearest challenger, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, by more than 20 percentage points.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, in pursuit of his 13th term in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, has declined to debate his Democratic challenger, Wendy Norman. In April, the 71-year-old incumbent opted for the same strategy against GOP primary rival Bryan Smith, whom Simpson beat by nearly 22 percentage points.
Seeking his third term in the state’s 1st Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, 60, won’t appear for a debate against Democratic rival Kaylee Peterson. Fulcher, who represents West and North Idaho, did not face a Republican challenge in the primary.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” Melissa Davlin, moderator and lead producer of Idaho Debates, which broadcasts on Idaho Public Television, told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “This might be the only chance the vast majority of Idahoans have to see the two candidates side by side and how they would approach the very important issues to the state. That’s part of the duty of public television, of getting education out there.”
In one of the marquee statewide races, Little faces political dissenter and independent candidate Ammon Bundy, as well as Democrat Stephen Heidt. Libertarian candidate Paul Sand and Constitution Party nominee Chantyrose Davison also qualified for the ballot in the gubernatorial race.
“The most difficult and expensive part of really any campaign — incumbent or not — is reaching people with your message, and all of that is part of the debates,” Bundy, 47, told the Statesman by phone. “It almost seems like Gov. Little not accepting the challenge, if you will, to debate is him trying to keep the people of Idaho in the dark. To me, it is a disservice to the people of Idaho.”
Little’s campaign manager, Hayden Rogers, said the governor’s debate participation was unnecessary for voters, citing the one-term incumbent’s track record, which he said includes cutting taxes for families and businesses, and redirecting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax surpluses to education and infrastructure.
“We are confident Idahoans know what Gov. Little stands for based on his clear record of delivering results for the people of our great state,” Rogers told the Statesman in an emailed statement. “Just two weeks ago, Gov. Little and the Idaho Legislature championed unprecedented tax relief and support for schools while cutting taxes. Under his watch, Idaho cut 90% of red tape and became the least-regulated state in the nation.”
Debates will proceed in other statewide races of notable public interest, including for attorney general, lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction and U.S. senate. But the choice by several state incumbents to dodge political debate reflects an increasing trend — in Idaho and across the nation — of high-profile candidates declining to involve themselves in the time-honored process.
The growing tactic raises concerns about the state of American democracy for experts and historians in the fields of U.S. government and political science.
“That’s the thing about running for office: It’s a democratic tradition,” David Adler, an Idaho Falls-based political analyst, previously told the Statesman. “It’s an expectation of voters that candidates will stand before the public and answer questions.”
Four-term incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, 71, is among those who have signed on to debate with his two challengers: Democrat David Roth, 41, of Idaho Falls, and independent Scott Oh Cleveland, 60, of Eagle. The 90-minute taped event will air live online on Oct. 3, and be broadcast on Idaho Public TV on Oct. 4.
“I have agreed to the Idaho Public Television debate to share directly with Idahoans my strong record of fighting to protect Idaho from federal government overreach and supporting pro-growth economic policies,” Crapo told the Statesman by email. “I welcome the opportunity to outline the work I have done and will continue to do on behalf of all Idahoans in Washington.”
In May, Crapo earned 67% of the vote to defeat four GOP rivals in pursuit of a fifth term. In the Democratic primary, Roth won the party’s nomination with nearly 58% of the vote.
“So many times constituents only hear from their leaders in the form of boilerplate letters and rehearsed public statements,” Roth told the Statesman by email. “The debate is an opportunity to get past those and really get a feel for who the nominee is and what they stand for. I am extremely disappointed that the other Republican federal candidates as well as the Republican candidate for governor have opted to deny the Idaho voters of this important piece of the election process.”
Crapo maintains a dramatic fundraising advantage over his challengers. Through June, the Republican reported more than $5.6 million of cash on hand to spend on his campaign, if he chooses, Federal Election Commission records showed.
“The Idaho Public Television debate is important so that the voters in Idaho can hear directly from each candidate,” Cleveland told the Statesman. “This format helps level the playing field in terms of money and name recognition.”
Meanwhile, in the other two federal races, the Democratic challengers blasted their incumbent Republican congressional rivals for rejecting the chance to debate.
“If we let them get away with this, they’ll continue to put their own interests ahead of the interests of Idaho,” Norman and Peterson said in a joint statement. “We need to remind them of who they work for. We need to hold their feet to the fire.”
Fulcher’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from the Statesman.
Sarah Nelson, Simpson’s campaign adviser, defended the congressman’s record on public lands, energy and the economy.
“People in Idaho know that Mike Simpson is a strong supporter of Idaho agriculture and has used his seniority in Congress to not only delist the wolf, but to also keep the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species and to reign in the EPA,” Nelson told the Statesman by email. “He is working hard to further the development of nuclear power and is a strong supporter of becoming energy independent again.”
An Idaho Democrat has not won a federal race since former Rep. Walt Minnick narrowly earned a single term for the state’s 1st Congressional District in November 2008.
In another of Idaho’s most-watched races, Republican Raúl Labrador, 54, a former Idaho congressman, squares off for state attorney general with Democrat Tom Arkoosh, a longtime lawyer and lobbyist. With 51.6% of the vote, Labrador defeated Lawrence Wasden, a five-time incumbent, by nearly 14 percentage points, while Arkoosh entered the race after a prior Democratic nominee withdrew in July. Labrador and Arkoosh will debate for an hour the evening of Oct. 3.
On Oct. 24, two weeks before the election, Republican Debbie Critchfield will debate with Democrat Terry Gilbert in the race for superintendent of public instruction. Critchfield received almost 40% of the vote in the May primary, defeating two-time incumbent Sherri Ybarra and challenger Branden Durst. Gilbert ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
A Democrat has not won a statewide race in Idaho in two decades. Voters last awarded incumbent Democrat Marilyn Howard a second term as superintendent of public instruction in 2002.
“Of course, Idaho is a tough state for Democrats, but not all races are just the same across-the-board blowouts for Republicans,” Davlin said. “And those are the kinds of debates, like superintendent of public instruction … where it really does matter how candidates approach issues that affect Idahoans every single day.”
KTVB Channel 7 is scheduled to host a second debate between the two superintendent candidates on Oct. 25, according to Democratic campaign volunteer Jean McNeil.
Finally, on Oct. 28, IPTV will host Republican Scott Bedke, Idaho’s longtime speaker of the House, and Democrat Terri Pickens Manweiler for a 60-minute debate in the lieutenant governor race. Pickens Manweiler ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, while Bedke, 64, won the Republican nomination with nearly 52% of the vote.
In the race for state treasurer, Democratic candidate Deborah Silver declined to debate Republican Julie Ellsworth, according to the Idaho Debates committee.
For secretary of state, Democratic candidate Shawn Keenan did not respond to requests to schedule a debate with Ada County clerk and Republican nominee Phil McGrane, the Idaho Debates committee reported. And neither Democratic candidate Dianna David nor Constitution candidate Miste Gardner responded to requests to debate Republican nominee Brandon Woolf in the race for state controller.
The four scheduled Idaho Public Television’s debates will re-air with Spanish closed captioning and also be available online. Viewers can check IPTV’s schedule at
The post Several of Idaho’s leading politicians decline to debate opponents. Here’s who’s in, out appeared first on East Idaho News.

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