Christensen likely District 32 winner

The more moderate faction of Bonneville County Republicans had a decent night Tuesday, ousting an incumbent House member and seeing their preferred candidate win an open Senate seat.

However, with five out of six counties reporting results as of press time one of the most conservative members of the state House appears to be on track to keep his seat.

In District 33 Marco Erickson, a local mental health professional, unseated Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, by just 134 votes, getting 2,509 votes compared to 2,375 for Zollinger, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night.

“I just honestly want to thank the voters and also Mr. Zollinger for his two terms of service,” Erickson said Tuesday night. “It’s a big deal. This was a hard-fought race, and this was close, and I’m just looking forward to serving as the next state representative.”

In District 32, a heavily Republican district that includes eastern Bonneville plus Teton, Bear Lake, Caribou, Oneida and Franklin counties, Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, was leading challenger Dave Radford 4,896 to 3,474 as of press time, with every county except Bear Lake reporting. Radford, a longtime Bonneville County commissioner, campaigned as a more moderate alternative to Christensen.

And in District 30, which includes much of Ammon and western Bonneville County, Kevin Cook won the Republican nomination for the Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, getting 5,006 votes compared to 2,247 for Adam Frugoli. No Democrats have filed to run for the District 30 seat, meaning barring some unexpected event Cook will be the district’s next senator.

Cook said he is excited to represent District 30 in the state Senate and work on improving education and reducing property taxes.

“I’m just so excited, grateful (and) very humbled at the people,” he said. “I had no idea this many people would help out like they have. Not a lot of people know me, but they just seemed to get the word out, and I’m just grateful for that.”

These primaries, like most Republican legislative primaries in Idaho, featured one candidate who presented themselves as the true conservative in the race and another who presented themselves as the more moderate voice and had the backing of like-minded lawmakers and the agriculture and industry political action committees that tend to back such candidates. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson supported Cook, Erickson and Radford, as did Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot, while groups such as Idaho Freedom Action and the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance and Bryan Smith and Doyle Beck, local Republican Party officials who give money to further-right candidates and committees statewide, supported Frugoli, Zollinger and Christensen.

Christensen was elected in 2018, beating longtime Rep. Tom Loertscher in the GOP primary by 2% of the vote, and has made a name for himself as one of the most conservative House members. During the 2020 session, he was the top-ranked lawmaker on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Index, and he has been a vocal critic of Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus stay-home order, supporting businesses that opted to defy the order and open early. He will face Driggs Democrat Bill Leake in November.

Zollinger, who was elected to represent the Idaho Falls district in 2016 and has received consistently high marks on the Freedom Index and from the American Conservative Union, is a former Idaho Falls District 91 school trustee and lawyer who works for the local firm Smith, Driscoll and Associates. Erickson said he was driven to challenge Zollinger due to Zollinger’s legal work representing local medical debt collection firm Medical Recovery Services. VanderSloot was a major backer of a law limiting medical debt collection that passed this year and which Zollinger opposed. Erickson will face Democrat David Roth in November.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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