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Blog Home Page --> House -- Idaho -- 01

ID-1: Labrador Upsets Ward In GOP Primary

Local tea party favorite Raul Labrador upset Vaughn Ward last night in the Republican primary for Idaho's 1st congressional district. Labrador overcame a fundraising disadvantage and Ward's endorsement by Sarah Palin to win 48-39 percent.

Labrador, who told the Idaho Statesman that the key to his victory was a consistent conservative message, will now face freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick.

After defeating Republican Bill Sali in 2008 with 51 percent in the conservative 1st district, Minnick entered this election cycle as one of the most vulnerable incumbents. But he's voted with his party less than any other member of Congress, according to the Washington Post Votes Database, and flies back to his district nearly every weekend, despite the distance and unease.

In a memo to reporters early this morning, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which placed Ward atop its "Young Guns" program, wrote: "Unlike Walt Minnick, who enabled the Democrats' radical agenda by casting his first vote in Congress to install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, Raul Labrador will provide conservative, independent leadership for the people of Idaho."

The 1st district, which covers the western and northern portions of Idaho (and part of Boise), gave John McCain 62 percent and George W. Bush 69 percent in the last two presidential elections.

Idaho Primary Sets Up Top House Race

Idaho's 1st congressional district typifies the kind of Republican seats Democrats were able to pick up in the last two election cycles, as the party expanded its reach into conservative territory. But in 2010, it's also exactly the kind of district the GOP is expected to regain if the party is to win back the House.

Today, Republicans Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador lead a group of five in the primary race to take on freshman Democrat Walt Minnick. Before Minnick's election, the seat was held by a Republican for all but four years since 1966.

"This is a very conservative district, probably in the top 5- or 10-percent of the most conservative districts in the country," said Gary Moncrief, a political scientist at Boise State University. "Whomever the Republican nominee turns out to be, he will run as much against Nancy Pelosi as against Walt Minnick."

Jonathan Parker, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, confirms that will be the strategy for the GOP nominee's general election campaign.

"The vast majority of voters are very unhappy with the direction our country is headed with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi at the helm," he said. "A vote for Walt Minnick is a vote for Nancy Pelosi."

This is a tactic Democrats can expect all over the country, as Congress faces historically low approval ratings.

However, the strategy proved unsuccessful last week in the special election to replace John Murtha in Pennsylvania's 12th district -- a much friendlier district for Democrats but one Republicans could have won. Democrat Mark Critz won by a surprisingly high 8-point margin after his opponent worked to tie him to unpopular Washington.

Continue reading "Idaho Primary Sets Up Top House Race" »

ID 01: Sali (R) +11

He's had a rocky first term, but Idaho Rep. Bill Sali could be cruising toward a second, according to an independent poll. The poll, conducted for DailyKos by Research 2000, surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Sali and businessman Walt Minnick, the Democratic nominee, were tested among a sample with 47% Republicans, 24% Democrats and 29% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Sali.......46 / 11 / 67 / 41 / 50 / 42
Minnick....35 / 81 / 9 / 39 / 33 / 37

McCain.....59 / 17 / 82 / 57 / 64 / 54
Obama......32 / 76 / 8 / 34 / 30 / 34

Sali still has work to do to consolidate his Republican base, and he's not hugely popular. 48% of district residents view Sali favorably while 42% see him unfavorably. But the overwhelming GOP tilt of the district will help his bid for a second term.

A sidenote: Both parties have reserved television time in the state's First District, and Democrats are very optimistic about Minnick's chances. It may be a case of irrational exuberance, but party strategists in Washington seem to give Minnick an inordinate amount of attention.

ID's Sali Season

Republicans have lost seats in heavily GOP territory in Louisiana and Mississippi already this year, but could they possibly be in jeopardy of losing a seat in which President Bush received more than twice the number of votes of both his Democratic rivals? Developments in Idaho's First Congressional District suggest that freshman Rep. Bill Sali could, in fact, face a tough fight for his job this November.

Sali, a conservative who won a highly divided and very crowded 2006 primary with just 26% of the vote, has not had the easiest time in his first term. The former state legislator had to apologize to freshman Democrat Keith Ellison for suggesting that the founding fathers did not intend for Muslims to be elected to Congress (Ellison is the only Muslim ever to serve in the chamber), and has been criticized for his assertion that the country was founded on Christian scripture.

He's irritated members of his own party, as well. Last weekend, when Idaho Republicans elected a new, more conservative chairman of the state party, Sali supported the insurgent candidate, Norm Semanko, over the incumbent, who had backing from Governor Butch Otter. One state legislator told the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey that the move was "a slap in the face" to Otter. Otter was noncommittal about whether he would help Sali this November.

Having won just over a quarter of the votes in his 2006 primary, Sali was almost guaranteed to face a tough challenge in this year's primary. He got a weaker than expected challenge, from businessman and Iraq war veteran Matt Salisbury, who raised just $46,000 through the May 7 pre-primary reporting period. Sali still won with just under 60% of the vote, two years after winning the general election in such a heavily Republican district by just five points.

The incumbent faces more pressing problems for the current campaign. Sali's consultant, an Idaho-based firm called Spartac LLC, is the candidate's long-time friend, but he says he won't do any more work for the incumbent unless he's paid first, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported last month. Sali still owes Spartac $76,000, and has total debts of $135,000, according to FEC reports.

Too, he has never been a prodigious fundraiser. Sali had raised just $495,000 by May 7, and had $157,000 in the bank. That might not ordinarily be a problem in Idaho, where advertising rates are relatively inexpensive, but Sali will face a well-financed Democrat this Fall. Businessman Walt Minnick has already raised $710,000 and retained $321,000.

Every cycle, both parties find a candidate of theirs who fascinates them, even if that candidate's chances of winning seem remote. For some at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Minnick is that candidate, one who, running in another district, might have an excellent shot at beating a Republican. Instead, insiders insist Minnick has a chance to capitalize on Sali's mistakes and the downtrodden Republican brand.

The party and Minnick will make specific example of Sali's vote to cut federal funding for rural counties that have lost money because of a slumping logging industry. Counties in Sali's district, which includes timber territory in the Panhandle (The First runs from the Canadian border to that with Utah, along Idaho's western border with Washington and Oregon and including some Boise suburbs), will be impacted by the lost funds, and local officials, though Republican, could make the incumbent pay for his vote come November.

Is Sali truly in trouble, or is the district simply too Republican to vote in a Democrat? Minnick, a Red to Blue program participant, is being highly touted by national Democrats, but he has serious work to do to win over a seat that hasn't sent a Democrat to Washington since 1992. And even if Minnick doesn't win this year, some suggest Sali may not be safe in the future, even if only from a Republican challenger in the primary.

A Tale Of Two Primaries

It isn't always easy being an incumbent member of Congress, even when your party's presidential nominee carries your district by dozens of points. In two cases this year, incumbents are facing difficult challenges that threaten their status in Congress, and that's before they even get to November.

In Idaho, freshman Rep. Bill Sali got some good news yesterday when three top Republicans announced they're heading up his campaign. The conservative firebrand has put his foot in his mouth a few times of late, most recently when he suggested that the founding fathers had not envisioned Rep. Keith Ellison's election to the House. Ellison is the first Muslim to serve in Congress.

After winning a difficult primary in 2006, Sali now faces a more moderate challenger this year. Iraq war veteran Matt Salisbury has the backing of Idaho Agriculture director Pat Takasugi, though Sali's campaign will be chaired by Public Instruction Superintendent Tom Luna, Treasurer Ron Crane and House Speaker Lawerence Denney. Still, an August poll from Greg Smith & Associates, a leading Idaho Republican pollster, showed just 29% of those surveyed viewed Sali favorably, while 46% viewed him unfavorably.

Through the third quarter, Sali held cash reserved of just $110,000 with almost $190,000 in debt. Salisbury declared his intention to run on July 4, though he has yet to file papers with the FEC.

In Maryland, Rep. Albert Wynn is not a freshman. First elected in 1992, the Democrat representing Prince George's County, north and east of Washington, has never won a general election with less than 75% of the vote. But last year, Donna Edwards, former executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, gave Wynn a scare, coming within three thousand votes -- about 3.3% -- of beating Wynn in the primary.

This year, Edwards is running again. Earlier this week she won backing from the League of Conservation Voters, while Wynn won support from NARAL. The liberal blogosphere is backing Edwards, who is anti-war, while criticizing Wynn for supporting the bankruptcy bill and voting to repeal the estate tax.

Edwards also has support from EMILY's List, which will help her allieviate Wynn's fundraising edge. At the end of the quarter, Wynn had $400,000 on hand, while Edwards, who launched her campaign at the end of June, already has $115,000 on hand.

The two primaries are being fought on very different turf, but for the same reasons. Sali, some Idaho Republicans believe, is too conservative for his district. Ironically, say some Maryland Democrats, so is Wynn. Both primaries promise to be two of the closest in the country featuring incumbents.