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The normally staid and conservative CQ has done something pretty damned radical. They've moved the race for Idaho's 1st congressional district in to the toss up column.

CQ Politics, which takes past voting behavior and demographics into account in handicapping elections, has held the Idaho 1 race at a very tenuous Leans Republican rating, meaning Sali had an edge but an upset by Minnick was a plausible scenario. But the growing financial disparity between the parties in this contest — and the fact that Minnick had a 51 percent to 45 percent lead in an Oct. 18-19 poll by SurveyUSA, the only published independent poll to date in the race — has prompted a rating change to No Clear Favorite.

It is hard to envision that Sali’s problems in this election are mainly a matter of his strongly conservative views. They should, in fact, be among his political strengths. The western of Idaho’s two House districts — which includes part of the state capital of Boise, Nampa and cities such as Coeur d’Alene in the state’s panhandle — is a pretty conservative place, as evidenced by that landslide vote for Bush in 2004 and similar margins run up by Sali’s Republican predecessor, C.L. “Butch” Otter , whose successful 2006 run for governor opened up the 1st District seat. Sali was boosted in his 2006 race by the support of national conservative organizations such as the Club for Growth.

It is the way Sali has addressed his views, and his overall demeanor, that appear to be the cause of the problems he has had in congressional politics. These matters came up during the six-candidate campaign for the 2006 1st District Republican primary, which Sali won with just 26 percent of the vote. According to one anecdote, Republican Mike Simpson , who this year is a shoo-in to win a sixth term in the 2nd Congressional District, once threatened to throw Sali out of a window during a heated discussion when both served together in the state House.

That's the least of the Bill Sali stories, but one of the most repeated. My favorite bit of this article is a quote from long-time Idaho political observer, Randy Stapilus (now proprietor of one of the best blogs of the Pacific NW, Ridenbaugh Press). He puts the weird Idaho attitude and practice of sending whackjobs to Congress this way:  “There’s a political tradition of voters wanting to send a kind of long middle finger to Washington, and Sali is part of that.”

That sums it up neatly.

Hopefully, the disastrous economy and the need for Idaho to finally play with the grown-ups will move Idaho's voters to take their duty just a little more seriously on Tuesday.

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Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Oct 31, 2008 at 09:30 AM PDT.

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