The Democratic tide that swept Barack Obama into the White House left some Republicans standing as it washed over Washington and Idaho.
Republican Jim Risch, Idaho’s lieutenant governor, is headed for the U.S. Senate as the replacement for Larry Craig, whose congressional career was ended by a restroom sex-solicitation sting. In early voting, Risch had a commanding lead over Democrat Larry LaRocco as Idaho gave its Electoral College votes to John McCain.
The race for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District was much closer. Democratic challenger Walt Minnick jumped to an early lead over incumbent Rep. Bill Sali, but the incumbent chipped away as the night wore on and was trailing by about 1,000 votes with hundreds of precincts still to be counted.
In Washington state, Democratic incumbent Gov. Chris Gregoire swapped leads with GOP challenger Dino Rossi for the first two hours in the rematch of their close 2004 contest. Rossi was leading in most Eastern Washington counties except for Spokane, where Gregoire had a small margin. But big margins in King and Pierce counties appeared to put her over the top, and she declared victory about 10:30 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a two-term Republican incumbent in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, easily beat Democratic challenger Mark Mays. Republican incumbents on the Spokane County Commission had comfortable leads in early vote counts.
Idahoans picked Risch to replace Craig on Tuesday, out of a five-person field that included former Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco.
“My fellow Idahoans, you’ve hired me to do this job and I commit to you that I will work as hard at this job as I did when I was your governor,” Risch told supporters in Boise. “We have a tremendous number of challenges facing us. … We’re Americans. We can do this. All we need to do is roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Risch drew applause and a few cheers from Republicans assembled at a downtown Boise hotel when he thanked Craig and his wife, “for your service to the great state of Idaho.”
LaRocco conceded “a great race.”
“Four years ago, the Democrats had nobody running for the Senate against Mike Crapo,” he said. The other candidates included Libertarian Kent Marmon, independent Rex Rammell, 47, and independent “Pro-Life,” 67, an organic strawberry farmer known as Marvin Richardson before he legally changed his name to the political slogan.
Idaho’s 1st Congressional District
Freshman Rep. Bill Sali narrowly won election two years ago and had a hard-fought challenge this year from Democratic businessman Walt Minnick. Although McCain won about 60 percent of Idaho’s votes, a substantial number switched over to mark their ballots for Minnick and the race was too close to call Tuesday night.
Sali, 54, remained closeted in a Boise hotel room upstairs from the GOP celebration, and his campaign spokesman said he wasn’t ready to say anything. He appeared briefly and simply told supporters the race was too close to call.
“He’s watching the election results. He’s very enthusiastic,” spokesman Wayne Hoffman said. “He likes the way the numbers are coming in so far and we’re very optimistic.”
Minnick, 65, appeared energized as he mixed with Democratic supporters at another hotel a few miles away, and he also paid a visit to a separate Obama party downtown. He said the campaign was hard-hitting but issue focused.
“My attempt has been to draw a distinction on issues between Bill Sali’s voting record and any positions where they differ, and I think we have been largely successful in doing that, keeping the campaign focused on that. I think we’ve run a professional campaign. I will be content tomorrow regardless of the outcome tonight.” However, he added, “Of course, I prefer to win rather than lose.”
Predictions that the 2008 governor’s race would be a replay of 2004 proved untrue. It was even nastier and more expensive, with the candidates spending more than twice as much as four years ago and outside Republican and Democratic groups spending millions more.
And instead of a race decided by two recounts and a lawsuit, Gregoire was able to declare victory on election night.
Both candidates ran on Gregoire’s record. The incumbent pointed out that the state has been rated as a good place to do business by organizations such as Forbes Magazine. The challenger said the state’s business failure rate was among the highest in the nation.
Rossi also criticized the state’s budgets, which have grown with rising tax revenues, but now are projected to outstrip income as early as next year. Gregoire accused Rossi and his allies of misrepresenting a projected shortfall as a true deficit – the state can’t legally run a deficit – and said she was taking steps to cut spending in the face of a worsening economy.
They argued over transportation projects, gambling and crime statistics. Rossi said he could balance the budget and spend more on transportation projects by taking some of the money paid to the state for sales tax on cars; the plan won’t work and would put the budget further out of whack, Gregoire countered.
Washington’s 5th Congressional District
Although Washington state voted Democratic in the presidential race for the sixth straight election, Barack Obama’s coattails did not reach down to the race for Eastern Washington’s Congressional District.
Republican incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers coasted to a victory over Democratic challenger Mark Mays, a Spokane psychologist and lawyer.
McMorris Rodgers, 39, had things going her way throughout. She had the name recognition that comes with incumbency, and by mid-October she’d raised 16 times more money than her challenger.
Mays, 60, also had the disadvantage of entering the race late, and trying to maintain his practice as a psychologist on a part-time basis for much of the campaign.
On most issues she’s been a predictable vote for House Republican leadership and the White House during her four years in Congress, supporting Bush economic policies and the surge in Iraq. But she broke with both in opposing the $700 billion financial institution bailout. Mays described the bailout as an imperfect but necessary option to avoid further economic hardships, but was unable to gain traction in criticizing McMorris Rodgers for her vote.
She served her first term in the majority and her second in the minority. On Tuesday night, she appeared heading back to a House with even fewer Republicans. That means it will be important to build on relationships with members of both parties, she said in a break at a gathering of local Republicans at the Davenport Hotel.
“It’s time that Republicans and Democrats work together,” she said.