One third of the U.S. Senate is up for election next year. Balloting is 18 months away, but already - as with the presidential race - there's a sense that it will be a landmark event. Democrats now hold a bare majority, but that will likely change next fall. Of the 33 seats up for a vote, only 12 are now held by Democrats. The rest are held by Republicans, and they're feeling vulnerable in a nation hungry for change.
Here in Idaho, we have a sitting senator who doesn't know whether he wants to keep his job and won't decide until later this year. We have two big-name Republicans waiting to see what he does, and another single-issue Republican whose candidacy has already flamed out. Then we have a local politician in Boise who this week told the Idaho Statesman that he may run, but he's not sure under whether he's a Republican or a Democrat.
One person knows what he wants, and it's Larry LaRocco. The former 1st District congressman announced his candidacy last month, and he's resolute on what needs to be done:
Larry LaRocco says we need to help 250,000 uninsured Idahoans find health care. We need a new direction in Iraq. We need broad educational opportunities for everyone in our state. We need to take care of our veterans. We need alternative energy sources, both to cut our dependence on foreign oil and turbo-charge economic development. And we need to end deficit spending and quit passing on our national debts to our children.
Idaho doesn't yet seem to be on the Democrats' radar of winnable Senate seats. Assessing this week's story in The Hill about the NRSC's meltdown, the WaPo's Chris Cillizza didn't even include Idaho in his post about the fact that Democrats have challenges, too.
Rothenberg and Cook list Larry Craig's seat as safe - but then Cook didn't call Idaho's 1st Congressional District race a toss-up last fall until November 6, and most prognosticators didn't even give Larry Grant a chance until mid-October. Bill Sali wound up winning by a mere 5 percent in a district George Bush took by 40 percent in 2000 and 2004.
Idaho is capable of surprising people. And I believe Larry LaRocco can pull off one of those surprises, which is why I've joined his campaign to help kick start Internet outreach and communications.
Just a few more things you need to know about Larry LaRocco and why he can win:
In 1990, he became the first Democrat elected to Congress from his district since 1964.
In 1992, he was re-elected by a 50,000-vote margin, and he won every county.
Yes, he did lose in the Contract on America surge of 1994, but so did dozens of other Democrats. And he lost a race for Idaho lieutenant governor last year, but he got a late start (filing just before the deadline), he ran against a temporary sitting governor who shamelessly used the seat for political gain, and he needed to build name recognition among many Idahoans who've moved to the state in the past decade. (The state's population has gone up 40 percent since LaRocco's days in Congress.
There's no doubt he's on his way back. Last month, Idaho State Democratic Party chair Richard Stallings called LaRocco "a great campaigner — probably the best campaigner we’ve had in this state in a long time.” LaRocco also takes the netroots very seriously. He made what was Idaho's first web-based campaign announcement last month, and he invited bloggers to a conference call days later to start detailing his plans.
Finally, Larry Craig is very vulnerable, despite what the pundits say. Until Democrat Dan Akaka took over in January, Craig chaired the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs during a period when oversight was clearly lacking. Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey has been investigating Craig for several months now, creating intense speculation in the state and beyond on what he might write. And a list of RNSC events for May shows not a single entry where Craig will be featured, or even co-hosting.
In the end, Craig may or may not run. What's important to Democrats now is that Larry LaRocco is running, and he's running hard, taking nothing for granted.
To learn more about Larry LaRocco, have a look at his website and the op-ed published last night on the politics blog at the Pocatello-based Idaho State Journal. It's open for ratings and comments, so head over there and show some support.
We're also aiming to surprise a few folks on June 30. Wouldn't it be great to see LaRocco beat Larry Craig in fundraising this quarter? If you'd like to help serve notice to Craig that his job is in jeopardy, donate to Larry LaRocco at Act Blue.