I've been a huge fan of Idaho native Joan McCarter (McJoan), front pager for Daily Kos, ever since I first became acquainted with her from blurking the blogs. And I acted like a star struck teenager when she brought Kos to Idaho for a Democratic banquet. But her write up on the (Raul) Labrador upset is wide of the mark.
Unfortunately for the incumbent, Dem Walt Minnick, because his best chance of holding on to his seat was the mistake-prone Ward, who was unlikely to generate the kind of enthusiasm Labrador can garner. The best a Dem can hope for in this state is low Republican turnout.
On the contrary, Labrador is (Bill) Sali's heir apparent. Minnick won this seat in a district that gave McCain 61% of the vote. Minnick's opponent, Bill Sali, was a Republican flame thrower who became a congressman in a similarly divided primary after being funded by a right wing PAC, Club for Growth. Sali was the informal head of the ideological wing of the Idaho Republican party which constantly clamors for purity purges to cleanse it of notions they see as an anathema to conservatism.
In 2007, Sali helped lead a fight to defeat the Executive Director of the party, Kirk Sullivan, a big business lobbyist and a moderate. The moderates are largely composed of business types more concerned about government regulation than abortion. While smaller in number, they have most the money. A legislator that helped Sali in that fight was none other than Raul Labrador.
As a result of that schism, Sali ended up lonely and alone when running for re-election in 2008. His sugar daddy, Club for Growth, had other fish to fry. Big business Republicans like Dirk Kempthorne, Phil Batt and Governor Butch Otter were noticeably absent from Sali's campaign trail. And the big money, usually relied on by Republicans to fund their campaigns, actually started showing up on Minnick's campaign finance disclosure forms, probably as a result of Sali's xenophobic immigration legislation he was threatening. With the help of this money, Minnick was able to cobble together a sufficient coalition of disaffected moderate Republicans and eager enthused Democrats to squeak out a victory in a heavily Republican district.
The Republican primary yesterday was merely a continuation, if not a deepening, of the Republican rift. Fourteen months prior to the primary, Vaughn Ward was plucked from DC by Dirk Kempthorne, anointed by the Republican establishment such as Phil Batt, and funded by Idaho big business Republicans like Micron. Ward had secured the support of the NRCC who provided labor and promotion labeling him one of their "Young Guns" to take over DC from the likes of Nancy Pelosi. In stark contrast, Labrador came to the race late, had sorely anemic fund raising, and secured the endorsement of ... Bill Sali, as well as most his colleagues in the Idaho House of Representatives known for its extremism and for bucking the Governor and his moderate cronies in the Senate.
This is not to say that Minnick has the general locked up by any stretch. Minnick is still clearly the underdog in a district that gave Bush 68% in 2004. And while Minnick has alienated his Democratic base by casting high profile votes against the administration, he has incumbency and a significant war chest to his advantage. Had (Vaughn) Ward won this race, Walt faced a very real prospect of a unified Republican party behind a well funded candidate in an off year election in which the sour economy will reflect badly on incumbents. And while Labrador isn't burdened with Sali's caustic personality, he nevertheless represents the same extremist ideology that alienates big business and divides Republicans.
McJoan puts emphasis on Labrador's untested ability to garner enthusiasm. Labrador did not win the primary. Ward lost it. Labrador waged no apparent campaign in the traditional sense, lacking money, and he was ranging around for staff just one month ago. Tea bagger enthusiasm waned considerably after the passage of HCR even in freakin' Idaho as could be seen by the poor turnout for Caribou Barbie. And while Labrador definitely has tea bag supporters, Tea Party Boise endorsed him without polling its group and only after Ward tripped all over himself. Immigration still seems to be the lynch pin here and the big question mark is whether the xenophobes are going to be able to support a guy named Raul who makes his living legalizing Mexicans. Tea bagger support will also be mitigated by the fact that Minnick himself was endorsed by the national Tea Party organization thereby discouraging voters from labeling Minnick as "establishment".
In the end, I think there's no doubt that Minnick is happy the way the primary turned out. He just might have a shot at a second term.
Reprinted with permission from the author.