RATHDRUM — Russ Fulcher sees an entirely different race looming in front of him.
The former state senator from Meridian is running for Idaho’s 1st District Congressional seat, which will be vacated in early 2019 as current Rep. Raul Labrador is running for governor.
You might suspect Fulcher, who picked up huge support in North Idaho during a spirited but unsuccessful primary challenge against incumbent Republican Gov. Butch Otter (51.4 percent to 43.6) in 2014, must be nervous about the entry of respected state Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, into the race for Congress.
“Luke is certainly bright and qualified,” Fulcher said. “I’m not taking him or any opponent lightly.
“But honestly, I see the new dynamic in this race differently. I think it’s about whether or not Republicans, in North Idaho and throughout the district, have become satisfied and relaxed.
“We were backed against a wall in 2014. (Barack) Obama was president and Democrats had passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans felt a sense of desperation and just had to get out to change things.
“Now fast forward to 2017. Donald Trump is president, Republicans control Washington, and I’m worried that a lot of people have sat back and gone, ‘Whew!’”
Fulcher made no secret of his need to gather the same momentum in this part of the state as he did in the race against Otter.
“North Idaho and I were a great match, and carrying this area by a big margin made the race very close,” he said.
In fact, Fulcher might have upset Otter if he’d had any support in the Magic Valley dairy country – but his vote against the popular “Ag-Gag Bill” made him plenty of foes in the dairy industry.
This time around, the dairy land in southern Idaho is not part of the First District, so Fulcher could be the favorite to replace Labrador – who has endorsed him.
The caveat in that assessment, however, is that Fulcher has to build a powerful following in North Idaho as he did in 2014. And this time, he will have to contend with Malek, a three-term state representative who offers a more moderate Republican alternative to Fulcher’s staunch conservatism.
Fulcher admitted he plans to make numerous trips north, and Saturday he attended a barbecue at the home of supporters Tim and Karen Kastning (10035 North Happy Trail in Rathdrum).
Fulcher indicated that whoever might wind up battling in the Republican primary next May 15 — or the general election in November — he believed that the top issues to be debated would be the same ones that seem to puzzle Congress right now.
“No. 1 will be health care,” he said. “Then you’ll have tax reform and, third, immigration.
“I don’t think the key issues will change. Even if Congress passed some kind of health care bill today – right now – it would still be debated, or be going through the courts, by the time we get to the primary in May.
“The arguments and difficulties now will be the arguments and difficulties then, so I think the voters in the district will have to listen and make their decision on how the different candidates approach the things that are gridlocking the government right now.”
Fulcher admitted straightaway that with the Republican Party having control of the executive branch, as well as both houses of Congress, his party might be far more vulnerable than the public believes.
“This gridlock could explode in any direction. Right now the Republicans in Congress and the White House are seen to be failing, because nothing is getting done.
“There was an angry populist revolt that won us the right to govern, but it wouldn’t take much for that same populist movement to swing completely in the opposite direction.
“We need to accomplish some things that help the American people. It’s as simple as that.”
Fulcher proudly took on the mantle of a conservative, but wouldn’t commit to replacing Labrador in the Freedom Caucus if he’s elected.
“I think for myself,” he said. “Yes, my values align with conservatives, but I’ve taken some positions and cast some votes that went directly against what most conservatives would want.
“If I go to Congress, it would be with a clean slate — and I believe this is a time in our history where that could be more important than ever.”
And the paralysis that has bogged down Washington?
“If you watched ‘Star Trek,’ there was a great line from Captain Kirk in one episode,” Fulcher said. “He said he didn’t believe in a no-win situation.
“Well, neither do I. We have to find a way to win for the people we represent, no matter what it takes.”