A fundraising report can serve as a barometer of a political campaign.

Not the only one, of course, but, as political forecaster Charlie Cook put it last week, “Money is not only a fuel for campaigns, it is also a sign of political health.”

So how do you explain what’s going on in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District?

You won’t find a more Republican patch of turf anywhere. From the Canadian border to the Ada County line, the region has a dearth of Democrats in the state Legislature. Is there a more isolated figure than Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow?

Two years ago, the congressional district elected Republican Russ Fulcher with nearly 63 percent of the vote. He’s supposed to be coasting toward reelection against Democratic challenger Rudy Soto.

Yet it’s Fulcher who’s come up short in the recent fundraising sweepstakes. In the preelection quarterly report covering the period between July 1 and Sept. 30:

l Soto raised $120,864 compared to $95,273 for the incumbent. That’s no fluke. For the previous six weeks between May 14 and June 30, the two virtually tied — Soto raised $44,183 compared to $46,505 for Fulcher.

l During the two-year cycle, Fulcher has taken in more money — $474,801 compared to $240,051 for Soto. But going into the final stretch, they’re comparatively equal. Fulcher has about $101,000 cash on hand while Soto has $58,500.

l In the final quarter, Fulcher drew more than half of his money from political action committees, such as House Freedom Fund, the national credit union PAC and Micron Technology PAC. Less than 7 percent of Soto’s reported collecting in this period came from political action committees, the bulk of them from Indian tribes, including the Coeur d’Alene, the Nez Perce and the Shoshone Bannock.

l Soto collected nearly 93 percent of his money from individuals, who wrote checks as small as $10. About 46 percent of Fulcher’s money came from individuals. The smallest check he collected was $250.

PACS don’t vote.

And Soto reported nearly four times as many individuals who gave him money. Regardless of whether they handed over $10 or $250, anyone who makes a contribution is sufficiently committed to follow through at the ballot box.

However counter-intuitive this headline is, it remains an indisputable signal of momentum. Soto is not another Democratic placeholder who raises a miniscule amount of money, shows up for a debate and fails to register name recognition with voters.

This is a robust campaign being waged by a candidate who has assembled a network of supporters nationally coupled with an organization on the ground that has raised money and may be capable of operating an effective get-out-the-vote effort.

It is also evidence of the national Democratic cash machine, which is swamping the GOP from the top of the ticket to such national hot spots as Senate contests in South Carolina or even Montana. Some of that money is finding its way to Idaho.

And what about Fulcher?

The most vulnerable time for any member of Congress is his first reelection campaign. The point is not only to prevail, but to win so convincingly that any future challengers will be dissuaded.

Did Fulcher not anticipate a Democrat capable of raising money against him?

Even if Fulcher was caught napping, nothing short of a Democratic tsunami the likes of which no one has seen since the 1930s is going to dislodge him.

Just the same, this is something you don’t see every day in Idaho — a Democrat who has exploited a Republican’s complacency. — M.T.

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