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Who writes the history

You really can’t blame Larry Grant.

He was the 2006 Democratic nominee in the Idaho 1st congressional district; ran a strong race against a flawed Republican nominee, Bill Sali, and wound up narrowly losing. The next year, a batch of comments began surfacing around Democratic circles that, well, Grant lost because he was a bad candidate. With the implication that all the Democrats needed to win next time was a better one. Was there some basis for arguing that Grant was an imperfect candidate? Probably. But then, try finding a perfect candidate, anywhere.

Grant started a second run at the seat in 2008 but dropped out after businessman Walt Minnick entered the race. In some respects, Minnick was a less presentable candidate than Grant had been (a matter of style – a little more diffident in manner), but ran about as strong a campaign overall. This time Sali, who had a knack for irritating people (especially fellow Republicans), had a little more exposure to the district, and he lost a little support, and in 2008 there was a somewhat stronger than usual Democratic get-out-the-vote effort. Minnick very narrowly won.

Any fair evaluation of the candidates involved in these races has to start with facts like these. But history gets rewritten a lot, and Minnick’s good 2008 campaign eventually got some grade inflation. Some of that may have helped his fundraising; in 2008 he ran what must be the most expensive campaign Idaho has ever seen for the U.S. House, involving probably twice as much money raised as anyone else ever has. But there were limited to its effectiveness: A couple of weeks ago, Minnick lost decisively.

From a comment by Grant on the Spokesman-Review Huckleberries blog:

So let me get it straight: when I lost, I was a bad candidate, when Walt loses, there was nothing anybody could do, even though he was an incumbent with a conservative voting record with a $2 million dollar war chest who loses to an underfunded R who doesn’t have the support of half his party or groups like IACI.

The race was Walt’s to lose. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve known Walt for 30 years and know him to be a good man. I place the blame where it belongs, directly on his campaign staff and advisors.

He delivered a comment here too, to a post on election vote totals in the 1st:

Of course more interesting to me, was the 2006 vs. 2010 Congressional numbers. Total votes were 247,422 in 2010 vs 231,974 in 2006, about 15,000 more total votes. However, Walt actually got fewer votes than I did in 2006 with his 2010 vote count at 102,130 and mine in 2006 at 103,935, while Labrador got 126,231 to Sali’s 115,843. So, Labrador only got about 10,000 more votes on a 15,000 increase in total votes. The rest went to 3rd party candidates, with Dave Olson getting 7,508 more votes in 2010 than he did in 2006. Pretty clear evidence that a significant number of Dems either stayed home or shifted to Olson.

Was the race “Walt’s to lose”? That’s a little hard to conclude definitively, since the margins in the 2010 contest were so large. But his point in comparing the 2006 and 2010 vote totals is pretty solid. Did a bunch of Democrats simply decline to vote for Minnick? The closer you look, the more it looks that way. Next question – one for review among Idaho Democrats – why was that?

Hint: It wasn’t that Minnick turned from a shining campaigning star in one cycle to a campaigning dunce in the next. We won’t rewrite history here to suggest that’s what happened. But watch for it; some Idaho Democrats will be riding that explanation again soon enough.

ADDITIONAL There’s another thoughtful piece, running though additional numbers, on 43rd State Blues – it’s also worth a read. Its conclusion: “Most Democrats would rather go down swinging, standing up for who we are, whether right or left, but as proud Democrats, with pragmatic and successful solutions, not self contradicting platitudes. Moreover Democrats should offer independents in this state a real choice other than Republican and Republican lite. In contrast, joining Republicans in running against Democrats will just assure a significant portion of the rank and file will stay home. losing elections, and leaving the party apparatus worse off than if Democrats fielded a Brittany spaniel.”

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