Writings and observations

Joel Haugen

Joel Haugen

The 1st District congressional candidate Joel Haugen has just done something genuinely unheard of, something apparently without precedent in the United States at least for quite a few decades into the recent past:

He gave up the nomination and ballot line of a major party to take the nomination and ballot line of a minor party. That’s just, simply, not done: We can think of no comparable case anywhere at least in a good many years. And Haugen (who comes across as professional, crisp and affable – probably a solid candidate given conventional money and organization) said this morning at his press conference announcing that it’ll probably do him more political damage than anything else, which may be right.

But maybe not all that much. Haugen has resigned – is that the right word? – the nomination of the Republican Party, whose leaders have made clear for some time that they’re appalled at him, and will run instead under the banner of the Independent Party of Oregon.

He makes clear, though, that he still is a registered Republican. The Republican Party leaders who have blocked him from fair booths and the like have some case, since Haugen has endorsed Democrats in the two top races on the ballot (Barack Obama for president and Jeff Merkley for Senate). But in dismissing him, they have the effect of making themselves look narrow, which sort of makes Haugen’s point.

As a side point, there’s real question about whether the Republicans, legally or practically, can fill their ballot slot in the 1st district. Odds are it will remain empty – a stunning turnaround in a district that not long ago was thought to be highly contestable.

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Oregon

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

You can see why, today, Idaho Republican Chair Norm Semanko said (on his new blog) he was of this mood: “Just minutes after hearing the news, I received a call from Dee Sarton with Channel 7 news in Boise. She asked how I was doing and my immediate response was ‘ecstatic’. That has been my response all day. I’ve got an extra hitch in my giddy-up as I head to Minneapolis for the Republican National Convention with my fellow Idaho delegates.”

This was on account, of course, of the selection by presumptive (he isn;t quite yet) Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The Idaho reaction was totally logical: Palin is a native of Idaho (of Sandpoint), though she moved away as an infant; and she is a graduate of the University of Idaho, studying journalism. (Your scribe should note that he too is a Vandal – how soon before the media picks up on that college name – and also studied journalism in that same program. Semanko notes that he was attending the UI in the late 80s at the same time Palin was.)

She is the first Idaho native and the first Idaho resident (as opposed to, say, Jimmy Carter, who was briefly assigned to the state in the military) to be nominated for president by a major party. (At least, we’re assuming she will be.) She’s basically an Alaskan, but it’s something of a landmark for the Gem State, too.

Semanko again: “From the national perspective, this is a bold, strategic masterpiece. I’m pretty sure the Obama camp never saw this one coming; certainly not Idaho Democrats.” It comes as a surprise, no doubt (not least to a bunch of fellow Republicans). From an Idaho perspective, she will doubtless go over fine – think roughly in terms of a smoother Helen Chenoweth.

From a national perspective, we’re a lot more skeptical about how this will play out. Palin’s viewpoints generally will please the Republican base, but she’s not been in a place (either Willow or Juneau) where her ideas have had to bounce against alternatives, and that way could lie trouble in other parts of the country. Playing politics in small, insular communities is vastly different than it is on the national stage. (A question: How thoroughly was she vetted? We’ve had occasion to monitor the Alaskan media regularly in the last few months, and got no sense in what we’ve seen of any serious vetting going on – and how would you keep it a secret in Juneau or Willow?) A whole host of difficulties are easy to imagine, but you can never be sure what ideas will catch fire and which won’t.

And so, one way or the other, Idaho and the University of Idaho go to the show.

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Idaho