Bill Mauk has saved the Idaho Democratic Party from one potential embarrassment in this year’s election.
It remains to be seen whether Democrats will escape the other, the possibility that they will field no legitimate opposition to Sen. Dirk Kempthorne to cloud his status as retiring Gov. Phil Batt’s heir apparent.
Mauk, a Boise lawyer and former state party chairman, launched his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Kempthorne’s seat this past week. While he starts out as a huge underdog, Mauk at least gives the Democrats a credible candidate.
Second District Rep. Michael Crapo has no announced opposition for the Republican nomination to succeed Kempthorne. He has plenty of money in the bank already - with the prospect of raising a lot more - and is a huge favorite at the outset of the campaign.
Any Democrat would be a similar underdog. No Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat since Frank Church last did in 1974.
As former state chairman, though, Mauk knows where to go for money, he knows people statewide who are willing to work for Democrats and he knows what it takes to put on a U.S. Senate campaign.
He also unveiled what could be the central theme of his campaign in a state with the lowest electric rates in the nation - opposition to any congressional mandate that states deregulate the electric industry.
You can bet that if Crapo has made any votes in the past that appear to favor deregulation, Mauk will know about it and use it to warn Idaho residents that deregulation could have a huge impact on the state’s electricity costs.
But Crapo aide John Hoehne says Mauk’s researchers are going to have to look hard to find anything that indicates Crapo is pushing for deregulation.
“He’s resisting his own chairman on this,” Hoehne said. “The congressman does not support deregulation and will vote no. That has been his position for a long time.”
On the other hand, Kempthorne is the only major candidate in sight to succeed Batt in January. Like Crapo, he has plenty of money, the prospect of raising a lot more and the solid backing of Idaho’s huge Republican majority.
Democratic Party leaders have talked about fielding a good candidate, but claim the prospects don’t want to announce early because of all the flak modern candidates have to take.
But ask any Democrat on the street who’s even talking about running or raising money or doing any of the preliminaries to organize a campaign for governor, and they say no one.
If the Democrats produce their “stealth” candidate at the last minute, he or she will start out hopelessly behind. The candidate might wind up like 1990 GOP nominee Roger Fairchild, who got only $700 from the state party in his effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus.
Democrats tried to get Idaho Falls Mayor Linda Milam to enter the race, but she declined. The talk at the recent round of Lincoln Day banquets was that Bannock County Commissioner Tom Katsilometes might be the man.
“I’ve been approached,” Katsilometes said. “I’m thinking about it. I need to see whether it’s doable first and then whether there is any money for it.”
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