It’s not often that political races in Idaho get the attention of national organizations, particularly ultraliberal groups whose audience is small in this most Republican state in the nation.
But Citizen Action, through its Idaho affiliate, the Idaho Citizens Network, has its eyes on not just one Idaho race, but two.
The organization is buying television ads that criticize the voting records of two Idaho incumbents, Sen. Larry Craig and 1st District Rep. Helen Chenoweth.
The Craig ads started running last week. They criticize Idaho’s senior senator for voting to cut Medicare and veterans’ benefits and voting to give himself a $23,000 pay raise and provide additional tax breaks for the wealthy.
David Langhorst of Idaho Citizens Network said contributions to the organization at both national and local levels are higher than usual.
“The financial support has come about because people are pretty upset about the 104th Congress going too far,” he said.
The ads are not part of Craig opponent Walt Minnick’s campaign, but Minnick spokesman Bill Broadhead said the Democrat is glad to see them.
“I think there are a lot of people who want to expose Larry Craig’s record,” Broadhead said. “From what I’ve seen, the ads are factual.”
Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for Craig, said the ad dredges up old attacks, particularly the Medicare cuts.
Craig endorsed the Republican Medicare proposal that increases premiums at about 7.5 percent a year through 2002, Wilkes said, a smaller rate of increase than that proposed by President Clinton and the Democrats.
“How is a 7.5 percent increase not enough for inflation when inflation is projected to go up 3 percent?” Wilkes said.
Wilkes also denied Craig voted for cuts in veterans’ benefits, which the Idaho Citizens Network claims he did four times.
“I find it hard to believe that Larry Craig, who sits on the Veterans Committee, would cut veteran benefits, especially since he is honored by veterans groups all the time,” Wilkes said.
Langhorst said Craig voted four times in 1995 to cut funding for the Veterans Administration by nearly $400 million, including $250 million in Veterans Health Care and funding for veterans’ vocational rehabilitation counseling.
“Craig’s vote affected the price of prescription drugs and slowed the delivery of needed veterans’ services,” Langhorst said.
Langhorst said the Idaho Citizens Network does not endorse candidates and is technically non-partisan, though it traditionally takes liberal views on consumer and environmental issues.