Noteworthy material in today’s Dan Popkey piece in the Idaho Statesman about the Larry Grant congressional campaign from last year, in which he lost to Republican Bill Sali, and prospectively about the next one as well. Those following politics in Idaho’s 1st House district will find some useful background here.
The core point was that Grant hurt his on campaign in several significant ways. Popkey reported that “Democrats are grieving and resentful. Folks close to Grant don’t want their names attached to criticism, but they want this story told in hopes he’ll reform. They told me he’s ‘a hard guy to help,’ and ‘a pain’ who ‘knew everything’.” That would be a recipe for trouble, all right.
A couple of specific instances certainly sound damning. In one, Grant was on the verge of winning support from the Associated General Contractors, ordinarily a very Republican group, but he “lectured the contractors on unions, the minimum wage and a gas-tax hike, and said his aim would be to clean up Congress. ‘You may hate unions, but that’s the way it is, guys,’ Grant recalled telling AGC. ‘I’m not afraid of being on the side of the working guy.'” In a second, he didn’t even reply to an offer of no-cost media work from Bryant Reinhard, formerly of WRC Advertising, whose experience in working for successful Idaho Republican congressional and statewide campaigns goes back a couple of decades at least.
Popkey also quotes Grant as saying, “I really do believe that we did almost everything right in the campaign.” There’s a fair implication in this of trouble ahead for 2008, when Grant is planning a rerun against Sali.
We do disagree on a couple of other points.
One mistake he attributes to Grant is his decision to use local help rather than national (one reason he didn’t get as much national party financial help as some other candidates). Maybe; but having seen parts of the national party/consultant world up close, we’re very hesitant to conclude that it was a bad call. Over the years, the Idaho track record of Democratic national operatives is spotty at best – take that as a generous view. (There’s a fine big-picture view of this point in the book Crashing the Gate by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga; their take on the Democratic consulting world is spot on.) Not knowing enough to evaluate the specific personnel in this case, we aren’t concluding that Grant made the right call there. But he may have.
Popkey suggests that Grant could have won this race save only, presumably, for his mistakes. We see no reason to think so. In an extremely close race, small things – a TV ad that technically was better or worse, or the shift of pockets of voters, could shift the results; anything could. This race wasn’t that close. Grant’s vote total was about 12,000 short of Sali’s, too much to make up with small-scale alterations. There is also the fact, not often mentioned, that Sali’s race, primary and general, was cannily run, and little was left to chance. The race was monitored intensively by Sali’s money backers (the same people, Club for Growth and associates, who had been with him since he entered the primary), and it was pouring in funds in the final weeks. So what if Grant missed out on a few hundred thousand from the Democratic party? The Club would have truck-loaded in much more than that in compensation. Most of the internal Republican issues that Sali faced post-primary were healed within a couple of months, and there’s little Grant could have done to change that. And this is a very Republican district that, up-ticket and down, continued its Republican voting patterns last year as they had been doing. There’s no evidence in the voting record that this race was so closely up for grabs.
Just as there’s no evidence the next one is, either. Popkey suggests that Sali, now an incumbent member of Congress, will tougher to beat next time than last year. We agree (and have written as much). If Grant thinks that rerunning last year’s campaign would be enough to change the outcome next time (as one quote in Popkey’s column seems to suggest), he’d be wrong. As to what Grant could do to improve on last year’s outcome . . . we’ll be curious to see.Share on Facebook