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Longevity, at the outset

Walt Minnick

Walt Minnick

The new Congress, most of it at least, is sworn in tomorrow, and for many that will mark the start of a new career, in some cases an extended period. The two new Oregonians in Congress likely will be there a while. Senator Jeff Merkley will be there for six years anyway (re-election that far out is too hard to predict as yet); and Representative Kurt Schrader looks, for now anyway, to be well positioned for re-election. The same should go for the new Idaho senator, Republican Jim Risch – as matters sit, a strong prospect for re-election if he seeks it.

However, the Hill newspaper today ranks another Northwesterner as the second most endangered new member of Congress (after Louisiana Republican Joseph Cao, whose political difficulties probably are greater than anyone else’s in the new Congress). That would be Democratic Idaho Representative Walt Minnick:

Minnick won in large part thanks to outgoing Rep. Bill Sali’s (R) inability to play nice even with members of his own party. The incoming Democrat will attempt to hold down a district that voted 69 percent for President Bush in 2004, and he has shown the fundraising prowess to do so. Minnick would be well-served if Sali ran again, but, even in that case, the GOP primary would be no cinch for the one-term former representative.

The Hill correctly nails the early interest among Republicans in the seat, throwing in the names of Sali, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (who was interested in a U.S Senate seat last cycle) and state Senator John McGee of Caldwell.

The catch with the impending Republican primary is that it’s too unpredictable. The odds are good it will be contested seriously and won’t be swamped by one major contender; a big part of the reason for that is the split in the state Republican Party, which under other circumstances might be able to engineer a major establishment candidacy that would overwhelm everyone else. But that didn’t happen in 2006, when Sali won the primary over five others, and may not happen again in 2010. Which may mean that a plurality candidate appealing to the activists wins it, and that might help Minnick. Maybe; very little has shaken out yet, or will for a while.

(Would Sali run again? Could happen. Could he win the nomination or the general? You can craft scenarios where he does, though the odds seem overall against it. Of course, when he announced few thought he would win the first time.)

Some of what happens in 2010 will be in Minnick’s control. He would be well advised (and probably will be) to focus hard on building in-district relationships and on constituent service, and those will be important. With his party in control in Washington, he may get some help in assistance of those types and backing in avoiding in-district trouble areas. Incumbency brings a lot of advantages.

Some of what happens is outside his control. He will be connected to the Obama Administration, however much he may ally himself with the Blue Dogs, and we have yet to know how that will play out.

Is Minnick vulnerable? He may be. But the bigger reality is that his situation is very much up for grabs, a lot of important factors as yet unresolved, and we probably won’t know for months whether he’s a one-termer or could be settling in for a longer run.

EDIT: This post was edited to add the reference to Jim Risch, one of the four new member of Congress.

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