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GOP hopeful withdraws from Idaho 1st CD race

BOISE - Idaho state Rep. Ken Roberts announced this morning that he’s withdrawing from the 1st District congressional race, in which he was vying for the GOP nomination for a chance to challenge 1st District Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick.

Roberts cited “an unexpected health issue,” and also hinted that another “conservative” candidate might be getting into the race to replace him, saying he’s heard from two who have a “strong interest.” “I now feel I can responsibly withdraw from the campaign, knowing that one of them will continue to defend our cherished principles,” Roberts said in a statement.

Already in the GOP race is Vaughn Ward, an Iraq war veteran who’s been campaigning hard and who had out-raised Roberts, as of the last campaign finance report, by more than four times.

Ward, in response to Roberts’ statement, noted that he was endorsed yesterday by the American Conservative Union. In announcing the endorsement, ACU Chairman David Keene said, “Vaughn is a true conservative who will champion our values in Congress. … I am confident that Vaughn will be a strong voice for all conservatives in Washington, D.C.”

Ward said, “This is the definition of conservative politics by Republican standards, is the American Conservative Union, and having their endorsement, it means a lot. Idahoans will say, ‘This is the guy who’s viewed as being a conservative representative and he’s running for Congress.’ That’s important to us.”

Within hours after Roberts’ announcement, state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, said he’s planning to jump into the race, and had talked to Roberts. “I am making preparations to announce formally,” Labrador said. “I will be running.” He said while Roberts was in the race, “I wasn’t sure that it was the right thing. Ken’s a good friend and I respect him a lot.”

Labrador is a second-term state representative and a lawyer specializing in criminal and immigration law. He was an outspoken opponent of new taxes in this year’s legislative session, particularly Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a gas tax increase and new fees to improve Idaho roads.

The GOP primary has gotten attention because Minnick, who narrowly defeated one-term GOP Rep. Bill Sali in 2008, is viewed as vulnerable as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call recently listed Minnick among the 10 most-vulnerable House members in their upcoming re-election bids, though the paper noted that Minnick’s conservative record in Congress thus far may temper that, as may his big fundraising lead.

“The former forest products industry executive casts himself as fiscally conservative and a strong supporter of gun owners’ rights,” the paper wrote of Minnick, “and his voting record thus far gives him a solid claim on political independence: His 40 percent party unity score through August was the lowest of any House Member in either party.”

Minnick is the first Democrat to hold North Idaho’s congressional seat since 1994.

Roberts is the Idaho House majority caucus chairman.

Ward said, “He’s a leader in the Idaho Statehouse, and he’s served Idaho well over the past 10 years. I know that he’s going to continue to tackle the important issues facing our state in the coming session.”

Ward, who’s been actively campaigning for the past eight months, said he’s focused on gatherings around the 1st District where he gives a short speech, then answers any questions the audience might have.

During a gathering at a grange hall south of Coeur d’Alene on Saturday, 76 people turned out, “and besides the hosts, I didn’t know any of ‘em,” Ward said. “I spoke for about seven minutes, who I am, why I’m running, and for two hours they asked me questions. I think that’s the type of venue that Idahoans and Americans are demanding.” He said, “I think we are running a no-kidding, $5 and $10 and $20 check, grass-roots, come meet me, ask your questions, shake my hand kind of a campaign.”

Labrador said he’s not concerned about Ward’s head start on the campaign. “I think people aren’t even paying attention to a congressional race until after December,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a pretty tough race, but I think the people of Idaho are waiting for the right candidate to get into this race, and I think they will be energized by my message. They know the work that I have done in the Legislature, and they know that I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”

Among the candidates who’ve expressed interest in the race over the past year is the congressional seat’s former occupant, Sali. But Sali’s made no announcement, and didn’t return calls today; his answering machine said “memory full.”

Sali’s latest campaign finance report certainly showed no evidence of any building campaign. In the quarter that ended Oct. 1, Sali received no contributions - zero - and his persistent campaign debt actually increased, to $112,725, from the $110,103 that it stood at in July.

Said Ward, “I don’t know who may, when, where, get into the race. I’m in, and I’m going to continue what I’m doing.”

Retired Boise physician Allan Salzberg also has announced he’s in the GOP race, though he’s done no fundraising or active campaigning.

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