McNeil dominates Democratic race for Labrador's U.S. House seat

Cristina McNeil, a 2018 Democratic candidate for Idaho's 1st Congressional District.
Cristina McNeil, a 2018 Democratic candidate for Idaho's 1st Congressional District. rbarker@idahostatesman.com

Boise real estate agent Cristina McNeil outpaced her competition from the start Tuesday in the race to replace GOP U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador. The seat hasn’t had a Democrat since Labrador defeated Walt Minnick in 2010.

With 70 percent support and 80 percent of state votes counted, she led James Vandermaas of Eagle, a former law enforcement official, and veteran Michael W. Smith of Post Falls.

"I will work from my heart to lead Idaho in the positive direction that we desperately need to go," McNeil told a crowd of Democrats late Tuesday. "It is time to end the slide to the bottom in everything that is important to the people of Idaho."

All three newcomers hoped to capture a much-discussed national “blue wave” of support this fall, and use it to overcome the Republican advantage in the district that runs north to the Canadian border.

Since that 2010 race, redistricting has moved the district’s boundaries in Boise to the west, making it even stronger Republican territory than before. That may make it harder this fall for the winner to defeat the victor of May’s seven-way GOP primary.

High primary turnout among Democrats could have a real bearing on this race.

However, voters Tuesday in Boise said they knew little about the three candidates. Several voters said they left the House vote blank.

Casey O'Connell of Boise was excited to vote for Paulette Jordan for governor, and also voted for McNeil. "I think we need many more women in politics and I'm happy to support them," she said.

Only 12,000 Democrats voted in the 2016 primary and only 11,000 in 2014. The most voters Democrats got over the last decade was 19,400 in 2008, when Minnick was the only candidate.

McNeil, 51, said she is running “to fight poverty,” a commitment that began as a volunteer for Idaho Community Action Network. The organization advocates for health care access, food security, utility and lending fairness, and immigration rights for low-income residents.

Vandermaas, 60, supports a “Medicare for All” program that shares expenses among the government, insurance companies and private citizens and, he said, reduces the costs for drugs. He also supports free education through a service program like the Peace Corps.

Smith, 39, served 14 years in the military, first as a Marine and later in the Army. Those years included deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Smith describes himself as a blue-collar politician. He said he ran “to help out the economy,” with a tax plan designed to cut taxes for everyone making less than $500,000.

CORRECTION: This article originally misspelled McNeil's name.

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