A million-dollar question for Democrats

by Chuck Malloy
| May 7, 2020 12:05 PM

A decade ago, I was entertaining the notion of running for an open seat in the Idaho Legislature and getting a fair share of encouragement in the process. Some of my friends were telling me that I would be an asset to the Legislature and the constituents I’d represent.

Then came the reality check, when a political veteran asked, “Do you have $50,000?” That’s about what it would take to win a seat and raising that much money would be out of the question.

Uhhh...no, I did not have $50,000 of disposable income for a job that paid about $16,000 a year. And I was not going to spend waking moments begging lobbyists and other kingmakers for money – while making empty promises in the process. A life of second-guessing politicians, which people in my field do, is much easier than being one.

The same reality check can apply to Democrats running for the U.S. Senate – and especially when the opponent is Jim Risch, a longtime incumbent who has been on the political scene in one way or the other for more than a half a century. Risch was beaten a couple of times in the early going of his career, but that was decades ago. He’s a powerful Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the ability to raise money with the snap of his fingers. If polls show that a Democratic challenger is within sniffing distance of winning, Risch can always call his good friend – President Trump – to rally the troops in Idaho.

A Democrat is not going to take this seat through wishful thinking and slingshots.

So, the reality check for Democrats is this: Do you have at least $1 million in your bank account, or hopes for raising that much in the next few months? Former Rep. Paulette Jordan, who ran an unsuccessful (but spirited) race for governor two years ago, can answer “yes” to the financial question. She has connections a mile long, from her run for governor, and has been active on various fronts with the Democratic National Committee. She also has some national exposure to boot. So, raising at least $1million shouldn’t be a problem for Jordan – she might be able to get a few million more, especially if the polling looks favorable going into the stretch run.

She’s been stuck at home, as with almost everyone else, but she’s active on social media and upbeat about her support.

“We have an army, both stateside and nationally, and that’s what it’s going to take to beat someone like Risch,” she says. “We have a great generation of younger people who are stepping up – a front line of youth ambassadors who are organizing in places such as Sun Valley and North Idaho. They are really invested in this race.”

For Jim Vandermaas of Eagle, the other Democratic candidate in this year’s primary election, there’s practically no chance that he could meet the million-dollar financial litmus test. He has zero connections nationally and his political resume includes a primary loss to a congressional candidate who was trounced by Congressman Russ Fulcher in the general election.

Other than that, Vandermaas is a fine candidate. He and Jordan agree on a lot of things – including a push for climate change and opposition to the state’s takeover of public lands. They offer similar criticisms of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. And, of course, neither candidate has much good to say about Risch.

So, it comes down to who in the Democratic party has the better chance of making an effective campaign against Risch. Jordan – who is one of the few people in politics with the ability to make a concession speech appear to be a victory celebration – has the firepower to make a race against Risch at least interesting.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com