Writings and observations

Idaho 1st turns to the general

Ken Roberts

Ken Roberts

When Democrat Walt Minnick was elected to Congress from Idaho’s 1st congressional district about a year ago, one of the scenarios for his re-election campaign went like this: Republicans would be crowding the field to take on this unlikely Democrat in 2010. The large field would mean, as happened in 2006, that the win could go to almost anyone, and maybe not the strongest contender, which is what happened then (which in turn allowed for Minnick’s win). That kind of scenario would help Minnick’s odds for re-election.

But something very different has happened.

Minnick launched his congressional career by building bridges to Republicans – notably, the three in the rest of the Idaho congressional delegation – and voting very much like a House Republican, distinctive even from other Blue Dog Democrats. This had the effect of shielding him from the usual accusation of being “just another liberal Democrat” – such an accusation couldn’t hold. And Republicans took their time jumping into the race.

When they did, the names were not obvious giant-killers: Vaughn Ward, a former Senate staffer who’d been in the military but never run for office, and Ken Roberts, who was in state House leadership. Not overwhelming presences, but they got active early, enough to absorb a lot of the available early money, endorsements and organizational support – enough to discourage anyone else from entering. Then Ward turned out to be a stronger candidate than many had expected, and Roberts, despite strong state legislative connections, didn’t keep pace.

This morning, Roberts (citing health concerns) said he was dropping out. (By e-mail; no direct web link available to his statement yet.) Yesterday, his campaign manager had announced a resignation; change was in the wind and not entirely a shock.

That leaves only Ward, who has been raising money rapidly and picking up endorsements both local and national (like the American Conservative Union’s, today) at a steady clip. As the lone Republican in the field, he now stands to sweep up support, financial included, on the right. There’s little room left at the inn now for another serious Republican challenger – Ward is more or less occupying the field.

If Ward is able to absorb much of Roberts’ original backing, this race will already have turned in practice from primary to general. So the scenario materializing is what Minnick ought not to want: A single, fairly strong, Republican opponent positioned to run against him directly, without serious primary opposition, for what amounts to a full year.

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