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Political Homestretch in Idaho: Intimidation, Attack Ads, Emails and 'Scalping'

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Top row (l-r): Rep. John Rusche (D-Lewiston) and his challenger, Republican Mike Kingsley. Bottom row (l-r): Democrat Kate McAlister, who is challenging Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard). - IDAHO LEGISLATURE AND CAMPAIGN WEBSITES
  • Idaho Legislature and campaign websites
  • Top row (l-r): Rep. John Rusche (D-Lewiston) and his challenger, Republican Mike Kingsley. Bottom row (l-r): Democrat Kate McAlister, who is challenging Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard).
With just nine days left until elections, officials on both sides of Idaho's political divide are stooping to conquer.

Things started bubbling up in Idaho's Legislative District 1 in August. In the state's panhandle, Democrat Kate McAlister is challenging incumbent Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) in a high-profile contests. In an Oct. 26 article,The Spokesman-Review reported McAlister's mother-in-law claiming she "was accosted by a man in a Scott hat, with a gun on his hip, who complained about the woman's 'Kate' bumper sticker as she loaded her groceries into her car outside a Safeway."

Then in early October, a Democrat party field organizer was pulled out of District No. 1 after he said he was being "stalked and harassed" by Scott supporters. The allegations of harassment were serious enough to prompt Republican Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshal to refer the case to the Idaho Attorney General's office.

Making the Scott vs. McAlister race even more interesting, the powerful Idaho Association of Commerce and Industrymembers include Idaho Power, Simplot and Hecla Mining Companyhas weighed in with support of McAlister, a rare endorsement for a Democratic challenger. IACI slammed Scott, claiming the Republican incumbent had "one of the worst voting records on supporting commerce."

Meanwhile, in north central Idaho's Legislative District 6, Democrats say Republican operatives are trying to "scalp" Rep. John Rusche (D-Lewiston), who is locked in a hard-fought rematch with Republican challenger Mike Kingsley—in 2014, Rusche, the House Minority Leader, beat Kingsley by only 48 votes.

"By all accounts, this is the most watched race in the entire state of Idaho," Kingsley wrote on his Facebook page. "This is going to be a real close election."

A recent TV attack ad, linking Rusche to Hillary Clinton's candidacy, recently appeared in the samll market that includes Lewiston. Democrats said the ad was the handiwork of the Idaho Republican Party and "agents of Kingsley's campaign," and said emails about the ad between the Jeda Media Group (which produced the ad), Idaho GOP Executive Director David Johnston and a GOP field operative prove the operatives were effectively agents of Kingsley's campaign and violated state campaign laws. In one of the emails, Johnston wrote, "I want to make sure we just carpet the airwaves with this. Let's go scalp this guy!" Democrats said the emails also reveal a violation of campaign finance laws because the Idaho GOP Party had already reached the $4,000 limit for the Kingsley campaign, and the "scalp" comment was particularly disturbing since District 6 includes the Nez Perce Reservation.

“I am disturbed and saddened by the language used by somebody in Mr. Johnston’s position," wrote Rusche in a statement. "The derogatory and inflammatory language displayed by Mr. Johnston is highly offensive to Idahoans."

The Republicans were quick to fire back about the allegations of possible campaign finance violations.

"All of [the parties involved in the emails] are well within their legal rights to discuss party matters. In fact, it would be odd if they did not," wrote Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates. "None of them are employees of the Kingsley campaign, and none coordinated with the Kingsley campaign on this matter."

Yates made no reference to Johnston's "scalp" remark.