March 8, 1998 in Idaho

Democrats’ New Leader Optimistic Park Feels Party Can Make Some Headway

Mark Warbis Associated Press

Its newly elected chairman said Saturday that the Idaho Democratic Party can make headway against the state’s Republican juggernaut, and he even held out hope that a legitimate candidate can be recruited to challenge U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne for governor.

But Boise lawyer Tony Park, a former Idaho attorney general, said he plans to concentrate the party’s limited resources on challenges for the two U.S. House seats, selected legislative races and - if enough money can be raised - the Senate seat Kempthorne is giving up to return to Idaho.

“I can focus on races that can be won, and that’s what I intend to do,” Park said after his election by the Idaho Democratic Party Central Committee.

He was chosen to succeed A.K. Lienhart-Minnick. The former Boise television anchorwoman and wife of unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Walt Minnick announced her resignation last month, saying her husband’s new business venture and the couple’s newly adopted child required her to devote more time to her family.

Park is faced with trying to rebuild a party leveled by Republicans in recent elections. The GOP now has the governorship, all four seats in the state’s congressional delegation, an 85-percent majority in the Legislature and all but one statewide elective office.

And Democratic prospects this year look little better with Kempthorne in line to succeed Gov. Phil Batt, U.S. Rep. Michael Crapo vying to step up to Kempthorne’s Senate seat and U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth having already once defeated the party’s candidate to challenge her again this year.

“I will give fully of my time and my energies to elect Democrats in 1998,” Park told Central Committee members. “It’s a daunting job, but it is not an insurmountable job. We will win some and we will lose some, but we WILL win some.”

He was elected attorney general in 1970 when Democrat Cecil Andrus was first elected governor, but Park was defeated for re-election by Republican Wayne Kidwell in 1974.

He said Richard Stallings, who held the seat for four terms before a failed bid for the U.S. Senate against Kempthorne in 1992, has a solid chance of defeating whomever the Republicans nominate to succeed Crapo in the 2nd Congressional District. And Dan Williams also figures to run a strong race against Chenoweth in a rematch of his narrow loss in 1996, Park said.

The Senate race will be tougher, but he said Boise lawyer Bill Mauk has a chance against Crapo if the party can help him raise enough money to compete with the $3 million to $4 million he expects the Republican to spend.

The governor’s race is more problematic. No Democrat has stepped forward as a candidate yet. Dietrich School District Superintendent James Harshfield - who had been looking at running for state schools superintendent - asked Saturday for party leaders to consider whether he should be a gubernatorial candidate instead, but he is a political neophyte.

“We have two very qualified people who we’re lobbying hard to consider doing it,” Park said. He would not identify them, but said both have held public office and would be viable candidates against Kempthorne.

“He’s tough, there’s no question about it,” Park said. “But if one of these two potential candidates would throw his hat into the ring, we would have a legitimate shot.”

He said he hopes to have someone committed to the race within the next month.

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