Burley, Idaho is farm country. About 10,000 people live in the eastern Idaho town, that for many is just a stop off I-84 to gas up.
On a late October evening, state Senator LeFavour gathered a group of volunteers to canvass the neighborhoods near downtown Burley.
Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District covers about 40,000 square miles of southern and eastern Idaho. It includes all of Boise, and everything along I-84 to the Montana border. For almost 15 years, Republican Mike Simpson has represented the district.
LeFavour’s field campaign manager Tom Hamilton shows a handful of volunteers how to work an iPhone app that identifies which doors to knock on.
“So you’ll go to the first street based on your map,” Hamilton explains. “These are registered voters, that’s why they’re on our list, and they’re also Independents.”
LeFavour and her volunteers have knocked on almost 9,000 doors since she announced her run for Congress earlier this spring.
“The day I announced, are you kidding, I was like ‘this is a little crazy’, but I’m a hard worker,” LeFavour says. “There’s some potential out there and take a look at the numbers and see if it’s doable.”
Sen. LeFavour, clearly the underdog, says she wasn’t about to launch a campaign against seven-time incumbent Mike Simpson, if a win wasn’t feasible.
“And what’s amazed me is we’ve been able to hit or exceed all of the goals we’ve set,” adds LeFavour.
Her campaign hasn’t raised nearly as much money as Congressman Simpson’s, but in terms of the cash left on hand, they’re closer. Less than $100,000 apart.
Andrus Center for Public Policy Director David Adler says while LeFavour is well known in the Boise area for her work in the Idaho Legislature, her biggest challenge is trying to convince voters that a very popular Congressman isn’t the best choice.
“Strategically, every challenger would ask of an incumbent why they think they deserve to be returned when in fact some of these deep challenges have persisted over the last decade,” says Adler.
Still, Adler says people like Simpson, and he’s perceived as a moderate Republican…
“Mike Simpson is viewed as a very amiable fellow, down to earth, unpretentious person by both Democrats and Republicans,” says Adler. “The fact that he’s worked across the aisle shows he’s not hardened in positions, his feet are not set in concrete.”
Still, Simpson stuck to party lines when he voted against President Obama’s stimulus bill and the health care reform law.
He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that aims to give women pay equity.
He’s also supported Congressman and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget, which would cut some social and regulatory programs in the name of deficit reduction.
“The government, you’ve got to remember, doesn’t create jobs. The private sector creates jobs,” says Rep. Simpson.
Congressman Simpson says that’s why he voted against the stimulus plan.
“We just have a different idea of the direction you go to create jobs than what the administration believes is right,” he says. “If they had been right, would we have had 41 months of unemployment over eight percent, sometimes nine percent? I don’t think so.”
This is a fundamental difference between the candidates.
Nicole LeFavour believes government jobs play an important role in the economy. Public sector job cuts, she says, haven’t improved the overall situation. She says Idaho’s economy needs public school teachers, and adequately staffed agencies that help get business and industry projects off the ground quickly.
“It really isn’t rocket science to fix some of this stuff, but it is an obstructionist attitude that has kept it this way,” says LeFavour. “I can’t imagine the new Congress can keep that up.”
LeFavour wants to focus on fixing the deficit, and putting people back to work. She also wants to continue her fight on human rights issues and equal pay for women.
As LeFavour and one of her volunteers went door-to-door in Burley, most people who answered didn’t recognize her. But just about all of them had specific issues on their minds. For Soledad Calderra it was education.
When Sen. LeFavour asked Calderra for her vote, this was her response; “Well yeah, because I like the fact that you’re here actually, talking to me.”
The Andrus Center’s David Adler admits Mike Simpson probably doesn’t need to knock on doors anymore, and Simpson says he hasn’t this year.
But, Adler says in many parts of the state, going door to door is still the most effective way to get votes.
“It’s still a tall hill to climb in state like this that is so Republican,” says Adler, “but it’s also the case that this is how political change is made.”
The Idaho Historical Society says just four Democrats have been elected to Congress from the 2nd District since it was created in 1918.
So yes, it’s an awfully tall hill Nicole LeFavour is trying to climb.