Some weeks ago, a friend - an Idaho Republican - speculated that some interest and political significance might attach to the matter of Vaughn Ward's income. His speculation then didn't seem to have any specifics associated with it. But with an article out today, he may turn out to be right.
Ward, a Republican, is running in the 1st U.S. House district now represented by Democrat Walt Minnick; he is opposed in the Republican primary chiefly by state Representative Raul Labrador of Eagle.
A month out from the primary, Ward has most of the advantages over Labrador. He has a lot more money (having crossed the half-million mark, he probably has between five and ten times as much as Labrador). He has near-official support from the Republican infrastructure in Washington, and the lion's share of endorsements within Idaho from elected Republicans, including a lot of the legislators with whom Labrador serves. Much of the state's Republican establishment has coalesced around Ward. In what is for practical purposes a two-man race, history says that Ward should win and that it won't be close.
We're not placing any bets against that, either. But in the last couple of months some discordant notes have struck, and one from today could resonate.
A story by reporter Dan Popkey in the Idaho Statesman today answers the question our Republican friend posed some time ago: How Ward is supporting himself during a solid year spent campaigning. The answer is that - apart from a modest income from the Marine reserves - his wife Kirsten has been working as a technology manager. Her employer is Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association), which is a congressionally-sponsored corporation - semi-public, semi-private - set up "to purchase and securitize mortgages in order to ensure that funds are consistently available to the institutions that lend money to home buyers." And yes, Fannie Mae has been smack in the middle of the mortgage crisis of the last couple of years.
And as Popkey noted, "Fannie Mae was spared bankruptcy by federal bailouts. It has received $76 billion since being taken over by the Federal Housing Financing Agency in 2008. Taxpayers are on the hook for an additional $125 billion, according to Fannie Mae." A short leap takes you - or maybe Labrador - to the idea that Ward's candidacy is effectively underwritten by a federal finance bailout.
It wouldn't be a fair formulation; Kirsten Ward's job evidently has had to do with keeping the computer systems running, not with packaging mortgages. But the politics involved could be treacherous.
Popkey points out, for example, that Ward has railed consistently across the big bailout payoffs and said in January, "We've watched the federal government spend billions of dollars on huge bank bailouts while our community banks fail." That potent point of outrage stands to get undermined by household employment at Fannie Mae.
There's something more fundamental here, though, that goes to the core dynamics of the race. (more…)