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Idaho’s first mail-in primary moves ahead amid coronavirus

A session of the Idaho Legislature. File photo

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is holding an entirely mail-in primary for the first time as the state works to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballots needed to be requested by May 17 and returned by 8 p.m. June 2 to local county elections offices, with results announced that evening.

The Idaho secretary of state’s office said 320,000 ballots have been requested and mailed out, with about 100,000 returned in what could be a record turnout.

“It’s looking like equal or better than the presidential primary” in March, said Secretary of State Chief Deputy Chad Houck.

Democratic voters will see one high-profile name on their ballot: Former 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paulette Jordan of Plummer is running against former congressional candidate Jim Vandermaas, a retired law enforcement worker from Eagle, for a chance to challenge GOP Sen. Jim Risch in November.

Jordan, who served two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives, garnered national attention during her 2018 campaign amid hopes from supporters that she could become the first Native American governor in the United States.

Either way, the Democratic nominee will have a tough road ahead of them when they take on Risch, who is seeking his third six-year term representing one of the most conservative states in the nation.

Jordan, despite the publicity of her gubernatorial campaign in 2018, for example, got only 40% of the vote against then-Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the general election.

Risch is running unopposed in the GOP primary.

Two other Republicans seeking to represent Idaho in Congress are facing primary challenges.

Rep. Mike Simpson, who has in office since 1999, faces Kevin Rhoades, a Boise resident and small businessman. Rhoades is trying to position himself to the right of Simpson. But Simpson has a long history of bringing in federal dollars for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, one of the largest employers in Simpson’s district as well as the state.

First-term Rep. Russ Fulcher is being challenged by Boise resident Nicholas Jones, who owns several board game shops and burger eateries.

Democrats competing in the primary are Rudy Soto, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation, and Staniela Nikolova, a University of Idaho law student.

Idaho Republicans have a closed primary, with ballots available only to registered Republican voters, and the contested congressional seats are typically won by the incumbents.

Besides those races, all 70 seats in the Idaho House and 35 in the Idaho Senate are on the ballot. However, many of the races are uncontested.

Republicans hold super-majorities in both chambers, and the toughest test for most Republican officeholders is the primary.

Some races of note include the contest among four Republicans to replace Rep. Gary Collins of Nampa, who is retiring after 10 terms.

In eastern Idaho, incumbent Republican Rep. Britt Raybould of Rexburg is being challenged by former Republican Rep. Ron Nate, who previously served two terms before losing in the 2018 primary.

In northern Idaho, incumbent Republican Rep. Thyra Stevenson had a reelection campaign going but died Monday following a heart attack. There’s a process to replace her, but there’s also a possibility she will still win the primary because many votes have already been mailed in, potentially complicating filling the seat.

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