BOISE – Two candidates for the Senate seat now held by Larry Craig say they’ll hold a series of 10 debates across the state in October, starting in North Idaho – regardless of whether front-runner and GOP nominee Jim Risch participates.
Democrat Larry LaRocco, a former two-term 1st District congressman, and independent Rex Rammell, a former elk rancher and veterinarian, called on Risch, Idaho’s lieutenant governor, to join the debates.
“We share this belief that the best campaign that we can run is one that the public is involved in,” said LaRocco, who calls himself a moderate Democrat.
Rammell, a former Republican candidate who has “Conservative Express” emblazoned on the front of his campaign RV, said, “I feel it is imperative that the people of Idaho know exactly where their candidates stand on the issues, if they hope to be the next United States senator.”
Risch’s campaign refused to say whether Risch would participate.
“Demanding lots of debates is a typical ploy by candidates who are doing very poorly with the voters,” campaign spokesman Jason Risch said.
Risch will participate in one televised debate, on Oct. 21, Jason Risch said. The candidate is “working with other debate and forum sponsors across the state.”
Rammell said, “If he doesn’t want to attend, I think that in itself will send a message to the state of Idaho.”
He added, “We’re going to have a third podium or a third chair sitting there. It’ll be empty if he’s not there.”
Risch has remained mum throughout the campaign when his opponents questioned or criticized him.
“I am running a positive campaign,” he told The Spokesman-Review in the spring. “I am not running a campaign where I’m going to engage in responding to allegations by somebody else.”
Risch served seven months as governor after Dirk Kempthorne was appointed secretary of the interior. Two years ago, Risch defeated LaRocco to win a second term as lieutenant governor.
Risch handily won an eight-way Republican primary for the open Senate seat in May, while LaRocco easily defeated a little-known candidate to become the Democratic nominee.
Both LaRocco and Rammell have contentious histories with Risch. LaRocco has lost two elections to him. Rammell sued the state after Risch ordered the killing of dozens of farmed elk that escaped from Rammell’s eastern Idaho elk ranch.
But both said that’s not what the debates are about.
“I want the people of Idaho to know that I have been interested in politics long before I ever heard of Jim Risch,” Rammell said.
LaRocco said, “Rex and I are committed to be there throughout the state of Idaho … to have a discussion about our values and what we will take to the United States Senate.”
The two candidates said they were prompted to schedule the debates after Risch’s primary campaign focused on a paid TV ad that both considered “deceptive.” The ad touted the property tax cut that Risch engineered as interim governor but didn’t mention the sales tax increase that funded it.
On Friday, that ad had been removed from Risch’s campaign Web site.