It's been a July full of fireworks in Idaho politics. Last week, Larry Grant announced his campaign for another run for the Idaho-01 seat now held by Bill Sali. Meanwhile, Larry LaRocco turned a few heads by raising almost $80K in less than three months of campaigning since his Senate announcement in mid-April - a strong showing by Idaho standards.
The Senate race looks like the marquee event in Idaho for 2008. All eyes - all summer long - will be on Larry Craig to see whether he will retire and, if so, who will file on the GOP seat. But some Republicans don't want to wait for Craig's announcement, which he's promised to make by "late summer." Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has been floating rumors for months that he'd like to run if Craig declines, and last week maverick elk rancher Rex Rammell announced that he's in no matter what.
As always, Democrats' challenge in GOP-heavy Idaho is to divert enough attention from the Republicans to gain media attention. Our two favorite Larrys - Grant and LaRocco - have done just that in recent weeks.
Grant held Sali to less than 50 percent last year by running as a savvy Ivy Leaguer who served as vice president of Idaho's largest private employer, Micron, during the company's formative years. He drew a strong contrast with the hapless Sali, but since so many Idahoans tend to vote "R" by default, Grant couldn't quite seal the deal in November. Still, as Jesse Stanchak pointed out at CQ Politics last week, by coming close to victory in a district Bush won by nearly 40 percent in 2000 and 2004, Grant assured himself strong support for a re-match with Sali.
Two weeks ago, anticipating primary pressure from fellow Democrat Rand Lewis, some speculation of an ID-01 run by former Senate candidate Walt Minnick (and a less-than-flattering - and, many observers felt, less than fair - assessment of Grant's 2006 column by Idaho political columnist Dan Popkey), the 2008 Grant did something the 2006 Larry Grant may not have done: He showed up at a protest against Alberto Gonzales when the disgraced AG appeared in Boise. Not only that: When Gonzales refused to come out, Grant took the microphone and told the crowd that we need a new attorney general that will respect civil rights and the rule of law. (I did a diary on the event here.) With this show of streetfighting cred, Grant signaled that he is ready to battle any vestige of the failed Bush-Cheney administration, and that means Bill Sali.
LaRocco, meanwhile, has been putting pressure on the incumbent senator to speak up about Iraq. After Pete Domenici last week became the latest Republican to question Bush admin policy on the war, LaRocco asked Craig whether he intends to speak up, too. "The bi-partisan Iraq Study Group bill to draw down the number of troops in Iraq should mark the beginning of the end of the disastrous and delusional Bush Administration policy in Iraq," LaRocco said last week. "Because our original reason for going to war in Iraq—removal of Saddam Hussein—has long since been accomplished, Congress should also consider revoking the original authorization for the war in Iraq. Should that effort fail, Congress should reassert its power of the purse over Pentagon appropriations." (His full statement is here.)
LaRocco also has launched a Working for Senate campaign that's seen him hauling garbage in Orofino, Idaho; job shadowing a Certified Nursing Assistant in Pocatello; and working a shift in a Twin Falls cheese plant. He plans to work a series of jobs all summer to establish himself as the candidate who cares about working Idahoans. He's also gaining some buzz as a netroots-powered candidate, and not just in Idaho. Oregon blogger Andrew Simon wrote at Blue Oregon that LaRocco might be Idaho's Jon Tester, and several commenters on a Senate recruitment thread at Swing State Project noted that LaRocco is a people-powered candidate who is rapidly winning netroots support as one of the hottest Senate candidates for 2008. LaRocco also has done two diaries here at Kos in the past month. You can check 'em out here and see why DK diarist Skulnick recently wrote that Idaho's Senate seat is the 15th most likely to flip parties (out of 33 in contention next year). Idaho Democrats are used to being in the basement in such rankings, but Larry Grant's 2006 near miss is helping pundits and prognosticators take a new look at this fast-growing Western state.
Both Larry Grant and Larry LaRocco will be at Yearly Kos. Both will have plenty to say about why Idaho is in position to be the next Montana in terms of tipping blue for 2008. In the meantime, if you'd like to offer some early third-quarter fundraising mojo, you can do so here for LaRocco and here for Grant, , who just reactivated his page at ActBlue. (I got in for the first $50. By the way, happy third birthday, Act Blue!)
Keep your eyes on Idaho. 2006 was just the beginning.
Disclosure: I ran Grant's blog and netroots outreach last year, and I am currently on the LaRocco for Senate staff.