BOISE – Students at the College of Idaho in Caldwell were proud that they’d organized a debate in the race for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s seat that was attracting lots of candidates – but the Republican won’t participate.
The college’s Young Democrats and College Republicans were going to co-sponsor the debate, but now that Republican Jim Risch won’t appear, the GOP students decided against co-sponsoring the event, which will go forward with four of the five candidates participating.
“Without our candidate, we can’t really do that,” said Shoni Pegram, a sophomore political economy major and head of the newly formed College Republicans at College of Idaho. “I know I’ll attend, if I can make it. … I’m always interested to watch everyone. I watched Ron Paul when he came to campus.”
Tonight on the campus, Democrat Larry LaRocco, Libertarian Kent Marmon and independents Rex Rammell and “Pro-Life,” formerly known as Marvin Richardson, will face off in the debate.
Pegram said she’s sure Risch would have attended if he’d had more notice; the organizers contacted the candidates just over a week ahead of the event.
Jesus Tarifa, vice president and organizer for the campus Young Democrats, said, “I personally called them and they were very receptive and more than happy to come and help us out with this. … We’re doing this as nonpartisan approach as possible, just emphasizing that we’re trying to get the candidates out here.”
The debate, at 7 p.m. in the college’s Jewett Auditorium, will be moderated by political economy professor Jasper LiCalzi.
Pro-Life, who legally changed his name to the slogan for his run for the Senate, said it will be the first debate of the campaign season in which he’ll participate. LaRocco and Rammell have had two head-to-head matchups so far, both in North Idaho, at which they left an empty seat for the absent Risch.
“I think the students are really doing the right thing,” Pro-Life said. He said he planned to encourage Risch to attend the College of Idaho debate; not doing so, he said, “just makes him look bad, and he’s not going to lose the election anyway, so he might as well.”
Risch’s campaign director, Matt Ellsworth, a College of Idaho graduate, said, “First and foremost, Jim’s not in town.” Risch has been traveling the state and going to Washington, D.C., Ellsworth said. “He was up and down North Idaho at the end of last week, he’s been to Washington, been back,” he said.
Ellsworth said the timing of the campus debate was “difficult.”
Risch, the state’s current lieutenant governor, also has declined to appear on the traditional statewide debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Idaho Press Club and broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public TV, scheduled for Oct. 23.
He’ll appear with his opponents three times: in a debate Oct. 9 in Lewiston sponsored by the Lewiston Morning Tribune, a debate Oct. 21 sponsored by Boise TV station KTVB, and an 11:30 a.m. forum on Oct. 28 sponsored by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce.
Ellsworth declined to say why Risch is picking some debates over others. In an earlier interview with The Spokesman-Review’s Huckleberries Online, Risch said, “You can’t do all the debates – you get lots of invitations.”