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Steve Wells, a Democratic businessman, is running for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District in 2022, hoping to flip the seat blue. Wells previously ran for the seat in 2018 but lost to incumbent Republican Russ Fulcher. Now, Wells is gearing up for a rematch, touting his business experience and casting himself as a pragmatic moderate who can break through partisan gridlock. However, Wells faces significant obstacles in this solidly red district last won by a Democrat in 2010. Wells’ high-profile bid has attracted national attention as an indicator of broader political trends in Idaho and whether Democrats can gain more of a foothold across the Mountain West.

Background on Steve Wells

Early Life and Education

Steve Wells, 58, was born in St. Anthony, Idaho and grew up on a farm in Roberts. After graduating from Roberts High School in 1982, Wells attended Utah State University. He graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Wells remains involved with Utah State, serving on the National Advisory Board for the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.

Business Career

After college, Wells took a sales job with Micron Technology, a semiconductor company based in Boise. He worked his way up to become a senior regional manager before leaving Micron in 1997. Wells then co-founded a telecommunications company called Earth Link Network.

In 2002, Wells became president of a small community bank, Home Federal Bank. He led a turnaround of the struggling bank. Under Wells’ leadership, Home Federal expanded into new markets and was sold to a larger institution, Bank of the Cascades, in 2010.

Wells next founded an insurance company, Wells Fargo Insurance Services, serving as CEO. He stepped down as CEO in 2020 to focus on his congressional campaign.

Political Views and Affiliations

Wells has described his political ideology as “fiscally responsible and socially inclusive.” He has criticized extremism in both parties and pledged to work across the aisle if elected to Congress.

Wells was registered as an independent for much of his life. He officially joined the Democratic Party in 2017, motivated by his opposition to Donald Trump. In an interview with the Idaho Press, Wells said, “I believe the Democratic Party better represents my values and beliefs in equality, inclusion, diversity and compassion.”

Wells’ 2018 Congressional Run

In 2018, Wells launched a campaign for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, which came open when incumbent Republican Raúl Labrador opted to run for governor.

Primary Campaign

In the Democratic primary, Wells positioned himself as a political outsider and pragmatic business leader. He campaigned on improving healthcare and education, protecting natural resources, and advocating for underserved communities. Wells won the six-way primary with 33% of the vote, benefiting from high name recognition after lending his campaign $200,000.

General Election Campaign

In the general election, Wells faced Republican Russ Fulcher, a former state senator aligned with the Tea Party. Wells billed himself as an independent voice not beholden to partisan interests. He was pro-choice on abortion and supported LGBTQ rights, putting him at odds with the national Democratic platform. Wells vowed to protect Social Security and Medicare if elected. He also called for more nonpartisan redistricting and campaign finance reform.

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Wells significantly outraised and outspent Fulcher, putting $675,000 of his own money into the race. But Wells struggled to gain traction in Idaho’s deeply conservative 1st District.

Election Results

In the November 2018 election, Fulcher defeated Wells 58% to 38%, with the remaining votes going to third-party candidates. Wells performed better than the last Democratic nominee, getting over 8,000 more votes. But he still faced a 20-point loss in line with the district’s strong Republican tilt.

2022 Congressional Campaign

After his 2018 loss, Wells chose to run again in 2022, hoping more favorable national conditions could boost his chances. Wells officially launched his campaign in October 2021.

Campaign Announcement

In announcing his 2022 run, Wells emphasized the need for “pragmatic, solution-oriented leadership” in Congress. He said his business background had taught him “how to solve complex problems while navigating partisan interests.” Wells pledged to seek bipartisan solutions and represent all constituents if elected.

Primary Campaign

Wells is not facing any Democratic primary opponents this time around. Heheads directly to the general election as the sole nominee. Wells told the Idaho Capital Sun he did not think a primary challenge would be helpful for the party.

Fundraising

As of July 2022, Wells has raised $848,000 for his campaign war chest, including a $150,000 personal loan. This lags behind Fulcher’s $1.2 million raised to date. Wells will likely continue self-funding as the election nears.

Endorsements

Wells has been endorsed by the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and the Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ candidates. He has not received endorsements from major Democratic officials or groups yet. Wells told the Idaho Capital Sun he aims to appeal to voters directly rather than relying on establishment Democratic backing.

Platform and Priorities

Wells is running on a platform focused on the economy, healthcare, education, and political reform:

  • Economy: Wells supports investments in infrastructure and emerging industries to spur economic growth. He advocates Buy American policies to support domestic manufacturing. Wells also calls for expanded rural broadband access.
  • Healthcare: Wells wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, lower prescription drug costs through negotiated pricing, and protect coverage for pre-existing conditions. He supports a public option to expand health insurance access.
  • Education: Wells proposes increased federal funding for K-12 schools and colleges/universities. He also wants to make community college tuition-free for two years.
  • Political Reform: Wells advocates overturning Citizens United, outlawing partisan gerrymandering, and creating independent redistricting commissions. He pledges not to take corporate PAC donations.

Controversies

The Fulcher campaign has tried to portray Wells as an out-of-touch elite not in line with Idaho voters. They point to Wells’ wealth, homes in Idaho and California, and past federal tax disputes.

In 2021, Wells reimbursed the IRS $128,000 in a settlement over unpaid taxes from 2015-2017. Wells apologized, calling it an unintentional oversight. The Fulcher campaign has used the issue to question Wells’ business credentials.

Wells vs. Fulcher

Wells faces current incumbent Congressman Russ Fulcher in the November election. Here is an overview of Fulcher and how the candidates differ:

Opponent Overview

Russ Fulcher, 60, is a conservative Republican who previously served in the Idaho Senate from 2014 to 2018. In Congress, Fulcher has aligned himself firmly with Trump’s agenda. He voted against certifying 2020 election results and opposed infrastructure legislation. Fulcher has touted hardline views on immigration, abortion, gun rights, and transgender student-athlete bans.

Key Differences

While Wells and Fulcher share some common ground regarding the economy, their stances diverge sharply on many social and cultural issues:

  • Healthcare: Wells wants to strengthen the ACA, lower drug prices, and protect pre-existing conditions coverage. Fulcher voted to repeal the ACA and opposes federal involvement in healthcare.
  • Abortion: Wells is pro-choice, while Fulcher wants to ban abortion with no exceptions.
  • LGBTQ rights: Wells supports LGBTQ protections, including same-sex marriage rights. Fulcher opposes same-sex marriage and transgender nondiscrimination laws.
  • Public Lands: Wells wants to balance conservation and development of public lands. Fulcher is for increased mining, logging, and grazing on federal lands.
  • Climate Change: Wells acknowledges human-caused climate change and wants increased clean energy investment. Fulcher denies established climate science.
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Fulcher’s Critiques of Wells

Fulcher has portrayed Wells as an elitist businessman posing as a moderate Democrat. He points to Wells’ wealth and homes in California as being detached from Idaho values. Fulcher also accuses Wells of pretending to be independent while holding standard liberal positions out of step with the district.

The Race in Idaho’s 1st District

To assess Wells’ chances in 2022, it’s important to understand the political terrain in Idaho’s 1st District.

District Demographics

The 1st District encompasses western and northern Idaho, including Boise and Coeur d’Alene. Politically, it skews heavily conservative. The district is over 90% white and leans older, rural, and less educated – all demographics associated with higher Republican voting. Donald Trump carried the 1st District by 33 points in 2020.

Recent Election Results

Despite rapid growth and an influx of more liberal residents in Boise, Democrats have struggled in the 1st District. The seat has been held by Republicans for 12 consecutive terms. Fulcher won by 20 points in 2018 and 25 points in the 2020 race.

Wells’ Path to Victory

For Wells, the most viable path is increasing Democratic turnout in Boise while limiting losses in surrounding ruby red counties. He’ll need to persuade disaffected Republicans and independents to split their tickets. Wells must also hope national mood boosts Democratic candidates across the board. It will be a very steep climb, but Wells sees a sliver of opportunity given Fulcher’s extremism.

Wells’ Positions on Key Issues

Here is a deeper look at where Wells stands on some major issues:

Healthcare and COVID-19

  • Strengthen the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions and protections for pre-existing conditions
  • Add a public health insurance option to increase access and choices
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with manufacturers
  • Codify Roe v. Wade into federal law protecting abortion rights
  • Incentivize development of made-in-America drugs and medical supplies
  • Provide tax credits to offset insurance premium costs for low-income Americans
  • Fund robust public health infrastructure and pandemic preparedness

Economy and Jobs

  • Invest in infrastructure, broadband internet, and emerging industries to spur economic growth
  • Tax incentives and job retraining programs to boost domestic manufacturing
  • Focus on expanding rural and minority small business opportunities
  • Increase affordable housing availability through tax credits and zoning reform
  • Raise the federal minimum wage incrementally to $15/hour
  • Expand the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit to aid working families
  • Comprehensive immigration reform bringing in workers to address labor shortages

Education

  • Substantially increase federal funding for K-12 schools, targeting poor and rural districts
  • Expand early childhood education programs to boost school readiness
  • Make community college tuition-free for two years to increase access
  • Reform student loan programs for more affordable repayment options
  • Boost federal Pell Grants and assistance for first-generation college students
  • Promote skilled labor apprenticeship programs as alternatives to 4-year degrees
  • Invest in improving Idaho public schools’ poor rankings on national assessments

Environment and Public Lands

  • Balance conservation and responsible development of public lands
  • Expand protections for forests, rivers, and wildlife habitats
  • Increase funding to maintain and improve national parks and recreation areas
  • Transition toward renewable energy production on public lands rather than fossil fuels
  • Prioritize actions to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts
  • Protect air and water quality by enhancing EPA authority to regulate pollution
  • Promote sustainable agriculture practices that conserve resources and sequester carbon

Agriculture and Rural Communities

  • Provide subsidies, loans, and grants to aid young, minority, and veteran farmers
  • Invest in rural broadband internet, business development, and healthcare access
  • Reform immigration laws to meet agriculture’s labor needs
  • Promote agriculture exports and develop new international markets
  • Fund agricultural research on drought-resistance and efficient irrigation practices
  • Strengthen farm support programs like crop insurance to support family farms
  • Upgrade rural transportation and electricity infrastructure
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Immigration

  • Create path to citizenship for DREAMers, migrant farmworkers, and non-criminal undocumented immigrants
  • Boost funding for ports of entry and smart border security technology
  • Reform work visa programs to fill crucial labor shortages in agriculture, tech, healthcare etc.
  • End separation of parents and children at border; humane processing of asylum seekers
  • Penalize employers who exploit undocumented workers; require E-Verify system
  • Support DACA and provide clear path to permanent legal status for Dreamers
  • Overhaul bureaucratic hurdles in legal immigration and refugee resettlement process

Social Issues

  • Uphold rights of women, minorities, and LGBTQ Americans
  • Codify LGBTQ non-discrimination protections into federal law
  • Increase resources to prevent hate crimes against vulnerable groups
  • Safeguard religious liberty protections but not as license to discriminate
  • Continue pressing for national paid family leave policy
  • Protect and enhance Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits
  • Increase affordable housing funds to reduce homelessness among youth, veterans, elderly

Assessments of Wells’ 2022 Chances

Here’s how experts view Wells’ underdog bid to unseat Fulcher this November:

Strengths as a Candidate

  • Proven ability to self-fund will ensure robust campaign
  • Strong name recognition from previous run
  • Pragmatic, solutions-oriented message could attract independents
  • Deep Idaho roots and business credentials counter carpetbagger critiques
  • Lone Democrat in the race sidesteps primary drain
  • National mood favors Democrats over GOP incumbents

Weaknesses and Challenges

  • District fundamentals still favor Republicans by significant margin
  • Struggles to separate from national Democratic Party in voters’ minds
  • Lingering damage from 2018 loss and limited base to build on
  • Tax issue undercuts outsider businessman image
  • Struggles to gain endorsements from Democratic establishment
  • Fulcher well-known as incumbent with loyal GOP base

Outside Ratings of the Race

  • Cook Political Report – Solid Republican
  • Inside Elections – Likely Republican
  • Sabato’s Crystal Ball – Safe Republican
  • FiveThirtyEight – Likely Republican

Analysts see Wells as a significant underdog against Fulcher given the district’s strong Republican lean. But his robust campaign could potentially outperform expectations if national conditions tilt more in Democrats’ favor.

Conclusion

Key Takeaways

Steve Wells faces very long odds trying to flip Idaho’s solidly red 1st Congressional District. But the pragmatic businessman and Democrat believes his solutions-focused approach can transcend partisan divides. Wells promises to champion economic development, healthcare access, education, and political reform if elected. He provides a stark contrast on social issues to far-right opponent Russ Fulcher. Wells’ fate ultimately depends on whether the national environment becomes bad enough for Republicans that it wipes away the GOP’s inherent district advantage. Even a competitive showing could signify the beginning of political realignment in Idaho.

What’s at Stake

This race has implications beyond just one House seat. Wells’ campaign is testing whether Democratic inroads in the Mountain West can spread to Idaho. The results may accelerate Idaho’s rightward drift or show stirrings of more balanced partisan competitiveness. On a policy level, Wells would provide one more vote for Democratic control of Congress. And his more moderate views would be a check on House Republicans’ right-wing positions.

Wells’ Closing Argument

In closing, Steve Wells presents voters with a clear choice. Fulcher is an obstructionist ideologue out of step with Idaho mainstream values. Wells vows to be an independent voice seeking bipartisan solutions focused on economic growth, affordable healthcare, quality education, and reining in dysfunction in Congress. Wells believes Idahans deserve leaders who put progress ahead of partisanship. He humbly asks for voters’ support to bring a new vision to Congress.

FAQ

What is Steve Wells’ background?

Steve Wells, 58, is an Idaho businessman originally from Roberts. He has over 25 years of experience leading companies in banking, insurance, and telecommunications. Wells has an economics degree from Utah State University and deep roots in Idaho.

What congressional district is Wells running in?

Wells is running in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, which covers the western and northern parts of the state including Boise, Coeur d’Alene, and rural counties. The district has been held by Republicans for over two decades.

What is Wells’ political affiliation?

Wells is a member of the Democratic Party, having joined in 2017 after being an independent for much of his life. He has described his views as moderate and pragmatically centrist.

Who is Wells’ opponent?

Wells is challenging Republican incumbent Russ Fulcher in the November 2022 election. Fulcher has held the seat since 2019 and is aligned with the far-right wing of the GOP.

What are Wells’ top policy priorities?

If elected, Wells plans to prioritize the economy, healthcare, education, and political reform in Congress. He supports investments in infrastructure, protecting the ACA, increasing public school funding, and overturning Citizens United.

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