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When they're hurting in Idaho, you know they're hurting everywhere. We've already seen the grassroots revolt in the works on the part of Paul supporters. But the fissures in the Idaho party run deeper. At the core of the party split is a fight over Idaho's primary system between the state central committee and many elected officials.

The battle came to a head this week, causing one Idaho observer to take note of the strong contrast between a united Democratic party in Idaho, and the Republican infighting [sub. required]:

With Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats head into what promises to be a very good year for their party in congressional and state races across the nation with reason for hope.

Meanwhile, Republicans are still feuding. Their state central committee, comprising people elected locally, finally succeeded in forcing the party to sue a state government dominated by Republicans to require voters to go on record as Republicans before voting in party primaries. Statewide elected officials, GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan and legislators had resisted both closed primaries and the lawsuit.

Monday, it appeared that resistance had not been fully overcome. Although the suit was filed a month earlier, it turned out state government had yet to be served with the paperwork, which would begin actual legal maneuvering. Worse, party officials gave differing reasons for the delay....

Is this conflict surprising? Not really. When any party has as large a majority as the Gem State GOP currently has, factions are bound to emerge, and eventually to collide. But this year in Idaho, Democrats have reason to give thanks that their own unity is not reflected in the party whose hold on power they intend to weaken.

The Democratic party is unified in Idaho, with a slate of legislative candidates that could be larger, but is still respectable. More importantly, they have two serious federal candidates in Walt Minnick (ID-01) and Larry LaRocco (ID-Sen), both of whom have been busy over the last few months criss-crossing the state to reach out to voters. There's also the Obama factor--Idahoans turned out in historic numbers to give Obama nearly 80% of the caucus vote. With him at the top of the ticket in November, you'd think even Idaho Republicans would start paying a bit of attention to the mood of the populace.

Instead, the state's leading candidates for federal office are displaying a degree of arrogance that would be surprising if it were coming anywhere but from Idaho Republicans. That arrogance has the potential to bite them with their own base. Both incumbent Rep. Bill Sali and leading Senate candidate Jim Risch are refusing to participate in primary debates.

Sali has backed out of tomorrow's debate sponsored by the League of Women voters on Idaho Public Television--the only one broadcast statewide--because he "just couldn't make it work in the schedule." Likewise, front-running Senate candidate Jim Risch refused to participate in the primary debate on IPTV, because he "didn't like the format, which allows for interplay between candidates that he fears could become negative."

Instead, Risch chose to participate in a debate by the most favorable of Idaho's media outlets, the NBC affiliate. Not only did they promise a format that was more to his liking--he wouldn't be challenged by his challengers--they controlled the audience, keeping out other political reporters.

Among those barred were the Associated Press, an Idaho Statesman reporter and independent candidate Rex Rammell, who parked a campaign bus outside the 1,500-seat Swayne Auditorium.

Quary said KTVB News Director Jim Gilchriest told him to exclude from auditorium access anyone not the list. Quary said Gilchriest told him he was too busy to talk to a Statesman reporter, who arrived a half-hour early about covering the only scheduled debate featuring front-running Lt. Gov. Jim Risch.

So let's review. The Republican party apparatus is at war with Republican elected officials. There's a grassroots movement by Ron Paul supporters who feel shut out of the party to take over precinct committee seats. The two leading federal candidates have blown off their responsibility to their base constituents by refusing to debate their primary. For the icing on the cake, Jim Risch has made some powerful enemies by shutting out key Idaho political reporters.

The national Republican party in a microcosm, arrogant and out of touch. That's a deadly combination in the face of a energized Democratic party and an electorate that's demanding change. Even in Idaho.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat May 17, 2008 at 02:50 PM PDT.

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