In announcing as he did today in Canyon County that he will run for the U.S. House, state Representative Ken Roberts has to be hoping he'll be the next Ron Crane.
Crane, the state treasurer, was an earlier Republican prospect for the first district congressional seat now improbably held by Democrat Walt Minnick. But he was also more than that; he was the Republican strategic approach to a difficult problem.
The problem is that, to consider the district's core leanings, it should be about as close as any in the country to a Republican slam dunk, except that it isn't. Depending on how you count, Democrats hold around four to seven of the 50 or so state legislative seats here - a useful indicator; the courthouses reflect margins not far from that. It was a very strong McCain district last year. It was lost to Republicans last time in large part because of the weak candidacy of incumbent Bill Sali.
And yet, the Idaho Republicans we've talked with aren't exactly overwhelmed with confidence about winning it back: Possible, they argue, but not easy. Credit that in largest part to Minnick, who's made no self-destructive moves (and quite a few that work neatly strategically) while in office, routinely is described as conservative even by Republicans (!) and has managed to develop a strong and highly visible cooperative relationship with the three Republicans in the delegation. Those three Republicans will ultimately line up behind the Republican nominee, of course, but they may be restrained in how hard they go after the guy who has been working with them so closely.
On the Republican side, there's also this: For all the many Republicans in the first district, nailing down the logical candidate to run against Minnick isn't easy: There's no self-evidently obvious heir. That in itself creates a problem, which you might call the 2006 Problem: A potential primary with a bunch of candidates, each getting a sliver of the vote, with the possibility one of the weaker contenders winning.
Crane was supposed to be the solution to all that. A statewide elected official, well-liked in Republican circles, source of hardly any negative headlines over his years (at least, his years as treasurer) and linked to all of the key constituencies without coming across as as an extreme member of any of them - Crane seemed to hit the sweet spot.
And he seemed interested, and apparently had the whole upper-end Republican hierarchy ready to sign on for him the way they did last round for Jim Risch for the U.S Senate. Until Crane pulled the plug - he seems to like being treasurer, and the office is up for election next year and he'd have to give it up - and the establishment plan went to pieces. And hasn't been replaced by anything else since.
One candidate is already in the field: Vaughn Ward, a Marine and former staffer for Senator Dirk Kempthorne, who (because of being little-known) seemed at first a splinter candidate, but has begun to pick up support around the Republican organization, and a decent treasury as well. He's not exactly the establishment's great hope, though. Ward has never run for office before, and taking out Minnick will be a tough task even for an experienced hand. And the experienced hands haven't been clamoring for the opportunity. Two such - Sali and 2006 House candidate Robert Vasquez - might still enter, but they would hardly be establishment picks, either.
Roberts, the state House majority caucus chair, is the closest to such an experienced hand to emerge so far. Only but so close, though, which will lead the state Republican establishment to consider with some care: Is this the guy who can clear the rest of the Republican field and take out Minnick? (more…)