Larry Grant's strong run for Idaho's 1st in 2006 succeeded in proving to Idaho Dems that they can be competitive, particularly in this district that has a long tradition of supporting Dems. That tradition has eroded some in the past decade and a half, but the vestiges of it are still there, and can be built upon.
At least that's the calculation of Walt Minnick, Boise businessman and former Nixon White House aide who has decided to jump into the race to unseat Bill Sali. Upping the ante, and bad news for Grant, is former Gov. Cece Andrus's endorsement of Minnick.
“This is a man who can win in the fall; a man I trust and can be elected in November as Congressman from the first district,” said former Idaho governor and Secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus....This summer, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey wrote a bit of a hit job in which a handful of Idaho Dems--all off the record--criticized Grant's handling of the race. From what I saw and the discussions I've had with folks in Idaho, some of these criticisms are justified, some overblown, and certainly Popkey's presentation of the story was unnecessarily snide and dismissive. At any rate, the column probably spurred more than a few Dems to think about getting into the race. One Dem already has, retired army colonel Rand Lewis, who is a bit of an unknown quantity, being new to the state and to politics there.
Describing himself as a “straight shooter,” Minnick said, “My friends say I’m a bit of a maverick, and hard to categorize. I’m a Democrat who spent four years in a Republican White House.”
Standing with his wife and two children, Minnick said he’s a “proud Idaho Democrat” but “you won’t find me lining up 100% on anybody’s political scorecard.”
Citing Frank Church’s “standing up to a president in order to keep the CIA from spying on ordinary Americans” and Gov. Butch Otter defying party lines to vote against the Patriot Act, Minnick said, “You may disagree with me on some things, but I promise I will look you in the eye, say what I think, then do what I say.”
Minnick has been involved in Idaho politics for a long time, and has one race under his belt: he challenged Craig for Senate in 1996. He's a former President and CEO of a timber company, Trus Joist International, and is currently chairman of another company, Summerwinds Garden Centers. He definitely has the capacity to self-fund a good chunk of his run.
The good news for Idaho Dems is that they're going to have something that's been a rarity in these long, lean, and discouraging days for Dems there: a primary with well-qualified opponents, a fact not lost on Grant.
"Once the primary's over, we'll all get together and go beat Bill Sali," Grant said....Grant and Minnick aren't far apart on the issues, so the question will be who's the better campaigner. Grant should have an edge in name recognition, since he just ran and many in the district are newcomers to Idaho who wouldn't have been around for Minnick's 1996 run.
"It's both good and bad," he said. "The good news is you get a lot more press out of it. The bad news is you've got to spend a lot more time with Democrats when we really need independents and Republicans to help win the election."
Update: For a take from the district, check out morialekafa.