BOISE – Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch kicked off his general-election campaign for Larry Craig’s U.S. Senate seat Wednesday, saying Idahoans must vote for him so the state will have two votes in the Senate – because his Democratic opponent would just cancel out GOP Sen. Mike Crapo’s votes.
Larry LaRocco, the Democratic candidate and a former 1st District congressman, disagreed.
“Mike Crapo and I have served together in the House of Representatives – we know each other, we respect one another,” LaRocco said. Noting that he’d be a member of the majority party in the Senate, LaRocco said, “My pledge is to work across the aisle and make the system work.”
Their race tops the ticket for Idaho’s general election campaign, which took shape Wednesday after the Tuesday primary vote culled the field down to one candidate from each major party. In the Senate race for Craig’s office, the field also includes two independents, Rex Rammell and a candidate who has legally changed his name to Pro-Life, and Libertarian Kent Marmon.
The primary drew just 25 percent of registered voters, but Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he’s expecting three times that – or more – in the general election, with a hot presidential race firing up voters nationwide. “This does not portend for low turnout in the general, let me assure you,” Ysursa said.
Tuesday’s election also saw Idaho Supreme Court Justice Joel Horton keep his seat by just 185 votes in a challenge from Judge John Bradbury, of Lewiston; five Southern Idaho legislative incumbents lose their seats; and incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Sali defeat his GOP challenger, Matt Salisbury, 60 percent to 40 percent.
Risch, who won an eight-way primary to secure the GOP nomination, said, “The United States Senate is the only place where we stand eye to eye with every other state in the United States. … We have in Mike Crapo a strong, solid Republican voice for Idaho. Mike Crapo is a co-chairman of my campaign. I’d like to go back to the U.S. Senate so that when Idaho votes, we have two votes – not zero votes.”
LaRocco, who easily bested David Archuleta, of Fort Hall, to win the Democratic nomination, pointed to the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area legislation he sponsored in the House as his signature legislation. It passed in 1993 on a voice vote with no opposition.
LaRocco said his previous congressional service will give him more seniority and better committee assignments than Risch as a freshman senator. He charged that Risch is “appealing only to the hard-core right wing, and it doesn’t look like there is any intent to reach across the aisle. He has a very bad history of working with the minority in the Legislature.”
Risch is a longtime state senator and state Senate GOP leader who served as Idaho governor for seven months after then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was appointed U.S. secretary of the interior. Risch is now in his second term as lieutenant governor.
LaRocco was a two-term Democratic congressman who lost to Helen Chenoweth in 1994. He unsuccessfully challenged Risch for lieutenant governor two years ago.
As the candidates regrouped Wednesday after a long night of awaiting election results, Salisbury endorsed Sali and pledged to support him, and second-place GOP Senate finisher Scott Syme, who took 13 percent to Risch’s 65 percent, congratulated the winner.
Risch said, “Obviously the numbers were pretty astonishing in an eight-way race, to wind up with 65 percent of the vote. It’s humbling and it’s heartwarming. I think it’s a tribute to what I did as governor.”
Walt Minnick, the Democratic candidate challenging Sali, called on Sali to join in a series of 10 unmoderated town hall meetings across the district this summer, where the two candidates would take questions from the public.
“I know it would help me to be a better congressman,” Minnick said. “I hope it would be equally beneficial to Congressman Sali, and I know it would help the voters of Idaho. … I think democracy would work a whole lot better if they could talk directly to the candidates. I very much hope that he will join me.”
Sali’s spokesman, Wayne Hoffman, said he hadn’t seen Minnick’s proposal.
“Congressman Sali has held numerous town hall meetings up and down the district since last year, both in person and over the phone, and I’m sure he’s planning to conduct many more town hall meetings to interact with constituents,” Hoffman said.
Sali said, “We’re going to have a tough campaign for the fall, there’s no doubt about it. I think our job is to let people know the differences between Walt Minnick and Bill Sali. … On just about everything … Walt and I are just 180 degrees different from each other.”
The general election is Nov. 4.