September 10, 2008 in Idaho

Rivals for Craig seat decry GOP tactics

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

Idaho’s top races

Five candidates are facing off for Larry Craig’s open Senate seat in the upcoming election: Republican Jim Risch, Democrat Larry LaRocco, Libertarian Kent Marmon, and independents Rex Rammell and “Pro-Life.”

In the race for the 1st District congressional seat, freshman GOP Rep. Bill Sali faces a challenge from Democrat Walt Minnick.

BOISE – Three independent or third-party candidates for Larry Craig’s U.S. Senate seat are reacting angrily to GOP efforts to push them out of the race.

In addition to Republican Jim Risch, the lieutenant governor, and Democrat Larry LaRocco, a former two-term 1st District congressman, the race includes two independents and one Libertarian.

“The party politics and the power plays, it’s sickening to me,” said Rex Rammell, a former Republican who’s running a largely self-funded independent campaign.

Last week, the Idaho Republican Party lost a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court aimed at ousting Rammell from the ballot, charging unsuccessfully that some of his qualifying signatures were invalid and that he’s portraying himself as a Republican.

That move came after 1st District GOP Congressman Bill Sali called at least two of the candidates in the Senate race and urged them to drop out to steer more votes to Risch.

“He sounded really worried,” said “Pro-Life,” an independent candidate for Senate who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson. “It’s really, really curious.”

Kent Marmon, the Libertarian candidate and a former Caldwell city councilman, said, “The call from Bill Sali was no surprise – it was just politics as usual, the way the Republican Party does things.”

He added, “I think the Republican Party has got it pretty well lined out as far as who is going to be running for what office when. … I think it’s a machine.”

Pro-Life and Marmon both refused to drop out. Rammell said he’s refused such requests from several Republicans; he wouldn’t say if Sali was among them.

“You can make your own assumptions,” he said. “The conversation I had with ’em was that they were worried I’d spoil the race. And I assured them that I had no intention of throwing the race to LaRocco, that my goal was to win, and I felt like I could. And I still do.”

Wayne Hoffman, spokesman for Sali, said Sali’s conversations with the candidates were private. “Congressman Sali has the utmost respect for the people that are on the ballot this November,” Hoffman added.Marmon and Pro-Life said Sali expressed concern to them that Democratic money was flowing to his challenger, Walt Minnick, in part because Democrats felt unconcerned about LaRocco’s race against Risch because there were so many other conservative candidates to split the vote with Risch. “His thinking was that we could help both Jim Risch and Bill Sali by dropping out of the race,” Marmon said.

Sali, a first-term congressman, has lagged significantly behind his challenger in fundraising, to the point that Minnick has been airing television ads throughout the district for the past six weeks and Sali hasn’t aired a single one.

“It’s time for this stuff to hit,” said Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby. “Labor Day has come and gone, the campaign should be in full swing. It’s here.”

Rammell, who was in Coeur d’Alene campaigning on Tuesday, said, “I heard a Walt Minnick ad up here just yesterday, and it was good. Bill’s in a tough race.”

Sid Smith, Idaho Republican Party executive director, said neither he nor party Chairman Norm Semanko knew Sali was making the calls.

Smith said the party decided to intervene in the lawsuit originally brought by 10 Idaho sportsmen to eject Rammell from the ballot because the arguments were “compelling.”

“He continued to use the Republican brand, even though he is running as an independent,” Smith said. “Rex was kind of trying to have his cake and eat it too.”

Smith said Sali’s calls are “not something that we asked Bill to do, nor were we aware that he did it.” He added, “We’re pretty confident in Jim Risch as our candidate.”

Weatherby called Sali’s involvement “very odd,” saying, “He is, it appears to me, in a tougher race than Risch is.

“Really, Pro-Life is not going to drop out. He’s not in it for pragmatic political considerations, it’s all about the cause.”

Pro-Life is an organic strawberry farmer from the Emmett area who, along with his large family, spends much of his spare time in placard-waving protests against abortion.

Rammell is a veterinarian and former elk ranch owner with a big bone to pick with Risch, who, as governor, ordered dozens of elk that escaped from Rammell’s ranch shot to avoid spreading disease.

Marmon, training and development manager for a locomotive manufacturer and a longtime Caldwell area businessman, said he’s running because “the ordinary Idahoan has no voice.”

Marmon, a longtime Republican, said he gravitated toward the third party after he had announced his plan to run for Craig’s seat as a Republican – and then the entire party establishment endorsed Risch, long before the primary. Recalling his phone call from Sali, he said, “He asked me if I really wanted Larry LaRocco to be our next United States senator, and I said no, and I didn’t want Jim Risch to be our next United States senator, either.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or

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