As the weeks go by, two Republicans between them seem to be moving into place to lock down their party's nomination for the Idaho 1st U.S. House seat held by Democrat Walt Minnick. Former congressional staffer Vaughn Ward and state Representative Ken Roberts have been pulling in substantial endorsements and money and have been developing campaign staffs and organizations - and doing much of this earlier in the cycle than often happens.
Unless some major name enters the field soon, these two seem very likely to be the serious options come primary election. Which of the two should be considered the front-runner, though, makes for a hard call.
First choice seemed to be Roberts, who in general appears to be more the establishment candidate - he certainly has very strong support from the Republican legislative community, and presumably much of its web of support around the district and beyond. And Roberts is an experienced candidate; and running for office is a different thing than simply observing or even helping. But Ward has been doing well too, raising money, probably making more headlines than Roberts (owing in part to participation from the extended Sarah Palin family) and pulling in some strong staff. Viewed externally, the campaigns seem at present to be fairly closely matched. And any major philosophical or policy differences between them, which might emerge, aren't obvious yet. Both will call themselves strong conservatives, within the usual Idaho meaning of the term.
The immediate prompt for all this review is a post in the Idaho Conservative Blogger, headlined, "Why Do ICB Readers Support Ward Over Roberts?" The blog offered a poll asking readers who they would back in the 2010 election in the 1st, and it came back Ward 90%, Roberts 8% and Minnick 2%.
Polls like this are, of course, self-selecting, and maybe the Ward people got themselves more organized to respond. (If true, that in itself might be an instructive point.) But the blogger also points out that page hits tripled on a recent day when Ward's answers to various questions were featured, as opposed to when Roberts responded.
What might be making a difference? ICB's speculation:
Roberts sounds like a typical politician with the same old one liners we all have heard before. I warned Roberts about this problem back on August 12th, I quote "For this conservative, you will have to give me a reason to boot Minnick other than just having an (R) next to your name. Don't be afraid to shake it up. Give me some substance not the usual talking points that I have heard a billion times. Otherwise don't wast my time. I will keep an eye on Roberts and Vaughn Ward, the other challenger, and hope for the best, a reason to give them my support". It seems Ward got the message but Roberts didn't and ICB readers noticed. Although, ICB agreed with most all of Roberts answers to our Q&A exchange on August 20th, it all sounded like a stump speech. It was too safe. ICB threw Roberts a bone to go on the offensive and show why he should take over Minnicks seat and all he came back with was that Minnick voted to confirm Nancy Pelosi. That's not taking chances. Come on! Local newspaper columnists, local radio commentators, and TV reporters read this blog. When ICB dedicates an entire post to you take advantage of it. Say something of substance, go out on a limb, take a chance. If you give the standard cookie cutter answer it's a yawn. I know Roberts has been in politics a long time, the problem is he sounds like it. That will not work this coming election cycle. Again, ICB agrees with 99% of what Roberts says. The problem is how he says it. In what will no doubt be a very emotional and passionate election it just will not work. If Roberts does not figure this out he will have a very hard time.
The implicit message in this seems to be: Come on fiery, and throw those bombs. Which may be right among the Republican primary electorate. And maybe especially if the primary is closed to declared party members. If ICB is right, this could be an upcoming election where that point of law and procedure makes a difference.
Of course, we're a long way off from next May. But this is suggestive of the shape of politics to come.