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Family ties


Vaughn Ward


Raul Labrador

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.

If you’re running in a Republican primary election this year, you want to position yourself as an outsider – one of the protester, someone scaling the ramparts. Many are the veteran D.C. Republicans from John McCain on down receiving in-party blasts for being part of the insider crowd. Ward clearly has recognized this. Last year, running against state Representative Ken Roberts, he took care to position himself with the outsiders: Ward was just another working guy, a veteran who’d been out on the front, someone who talked the language and expressed the emotions of the had-enough Republicans who disproportionately turn out in Republican primaries (and maybe this year more than usual). Eventually Roberts, who in contrast had played up his state legislative and leadership experience, dropped out.

From the time Labrador has entered, shortly after Roberts dropped, he has challenged Ward from the populist side, appealing hard to the Tea Party crowd, pulling in some support from former Representative Bill Sali (who has a support base still within the party) and generally playing the role of the scrappy underdog. How much support he’s been picking up is unclear; his campaign manager recently departed because fundraising has been weak. But within the activist part of the party, Labrador has caught some of the tone.

Meanwhile, the counter-narrative details on Ward have been accumulating. The D.C. support and connections run counter to his narrative as an outsider. So does the big campaign warchest. So does the long, long roster of top-line party endorsers. As does the word of the house the family still owns in the D.C. metro area while renting its place in Idaho. Item by item, Ward the outsider has morphed into Ward the Republican establishment guy.

It’s a matter of piling on to the narrative – the one Ward doesn’t (or shouldn’t) want. So you get things like the Ward campaign blasting away at Sali for a minor verbal slip that ends up outraging the Sali contingent. Things like what’s called on one blog “truckgate” – the trivial fact that a pickup truck used in a Ward commercial isn’t his personal vehicle (what? something staged in a political commercial?) – which would be completely ignored as it should be except for how it feeds into the morphing narrative.

And now, the Fannie Mae material.

Betting here still runs on Ward to win the primary – the key signals all say he should. But if Labrador does pull an upset . . . well, just link back right here . . .

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One Comment

  1. fortboise fortboise April 22, 2010

    A short leap takes you – or maybe Labrador – to the idea that Ward’s candidacy is effectively underwritten by a federal finance bailout.

    Or, you could just read the 40-pt headline on the front page of the Statesman today, Ward’s family supported by bailout.

    It’s a good story, no doubt about it. Should it have had that headline, on the front page? Arguably not.

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