BOISE – Idaho Senate candidate Jim Risch is airing two campaign commercials just before the election – but one’s not running in North Idaho.
That ad, featuring former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, appears only in southern and eastern Idaho, which have large Mormon populations.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is among the largest religious denominations in Idaho, with about a third of the state’s residents affiliated. Romney is popular in southern and eastern parts of the state, where the church’s membership is higher than the state average.
“It makes sense that an endorsement from him would carry considerable weight,” said Matt Ellsworth, Risch’s campaign director. “… We just followed the numbers.”
Risch’s ad features Romney praising Risch as a “man of integrity, honesty and character.” An announcer then calls Risch “the person we can trust to fight for us in Washington.”
Risch, a Republican, is not a member of the Mormon Church. Like his Democratic rival Larry LaRocco, he’s Catholic.
Rex Rammell, an independent who’s also in the race, is Mormon and has accused Risch of “pandering” to members of his faith, in this and earlier elections.
“It is well-known in the political arena of Idaho,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in April in the Idaho Statesman, “that if a candidate can take the bulk of the LDS vote, which accounts for nearly 25 percent statewide, his or her chances of winning are greatly increased. Jim Risch, who is not LDS, has known this for a long time and holds his current position thanks to some strategic manipulation of the LDS community.”
Risch knows Romney from when Risch briefly served as governor of Idaho and Romney was governor of Massachusetts; he was co-chairman of Romney’s Idaho presidential campaign, and Romney came to Idaho this fall to campaign for Risch.
In past elections, Risch has stressed his close ties to longtime former eastern Idaho Sen. Mark Ricks, a Mormon leader whom Risch appointed as his lieutenant governor.