Campaign finance reports from the Northwest for the cycle ending September 30 showed mostly the expected. The two Democratic incumbent senators in Washington and Oregon have big mega-million warchests, and no one in their states comes close. The House incumbents are all raising substantial money, which for present purposes we'll define as six figures or more. Only three House challengers have. We'll return before long to two of them (Democrat Suzan DelBene in the Washington 8th, and Republican Robert Cornilles in the Oregon 1st).
The most interesting of them for now may be the third: Republican Vaughn Ward, running in the Idaho 1st congressional district. Unlike the other two, he has in-party opposition that facially should be running in front, but now clearly isn't. The numbers run this way: Incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick has raised $885,842 (a very solid amount) and has on hand $642,322; Ward has raised $242,875 (with $178,533 on hand); and fellow Republican Ken Roberts has raised $62,020 with $41,660 on hand. Among northwest challengers, Ward has been outraised only by DelBene, who so far has self-funded 59% of her warchest.
By traditional measures, Roberts, who is in state House leadership and has endorsement from much of the House Republican caucus and a big swath of Republican leadership, ought to be top contender, or at least the lead money-raiser: He would seem to be the inside establishment candidate, if just by virtue of his statehouse linkages. But Ward seems to be on the verge of swamping him, and the dollars are only one indicator of that. A range of politically-active Idahoans (across parties) we've talked with recently say that Ward is pulling ahead.
That may be a national conclusion as well. In the last few days Ward was in Washington and reports picking up an endorsement from Representative Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, the House Republican whip. National endorsements like that, while a competitive primary is still going on, are not unheard of (see the Democrats and the Oregon race for the Senate in 2007) but are unusual, and could open quite a few financial doors.
I spoke with Wardthis morning, and some of the reasons for that fell into focus. They also suggest how great is the challenge Minnick will face next year - which is to say, large.
An early guess about Ward, who has never run for office before and is on the younger side (age 40 at present), might be that he'd have a steep learning curve as a candidate, in developing a clear message, self-description, presentation and so forth. But whatever curve there was, is largely past: He is clear, concise, polished, confident (just short of cocky), well aware of his audiences and how to address them, with some sophistication in shaping and framing messages. As a candidate, he reminds in some ways of former Senator Steve Symms (who had excellent campaign skills), but drawing on a broader background.
He seems to have an effective handle on telling his life story (growing up in a low-income one-parent house, moving on to military, combat in Iraq, CIA experience and staff work on Capitol Hill for then-Senator Dirk Kempthorne). His core message doesn't stray from the Republican line (less government, lower taxes, etc.) but he has more to add to it. His take on Afghanistan, for example, essentially backs that of General Stanley McChrystal, with some detail but formulated simply: "Finish the job or get out." It may be a message easy to convey, and possibly easier than whatever the Obama Administration comes up with. (more…)