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Roberts out of congressional race

Another GOP candidate hopes to beat Minnick

BOISE – One Republican state lawmaker pulled out of Idaho’s contested 1st District congressional race Tuesday while another jumped in.

The turmoil on the GOP side came as the incumbent, Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, embarked on a busy schedule of meetings, speeches and public events around the district, including a talk to high school students and meetings with farmers, bankers, veterans and retirees.

Minnick, a first-term congressman and the first Democrat to hold North Idaho’s congressional seat since 1994, hasn’t drawn any primary opponents, but there’s been jostling on the GOP side for a chance to take him on. Idaho’s primary election is in May.

State Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, announced Tuesday that he’s withdrawing from the race, citing “an unexpected health issue,” and hinted that another “conservative” candidate might replace him.

Already in the GOP race is Vaughn Ward, an Iraq war veteran and former aide to then-Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne. Ward has been campaigning hard for the past eight months and had raised more than four times as much money as Roberts as of the last campaign finance report.

Ward, in response to Roberts’ statement, noted that he was recently endorsed by the American Conservative Union.

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.”

While Roberts was in the race, he said, “I wasn’t sure that (running) 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 this year of Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a gas tax increase and new fees to improve Idaho roads.

The GOP primary has drawn 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.

Roberts is the Idaho House majority caucus chairman, but he had trouble getting his campaign off the ground and raised only $62,021 for his campaign war chest, compared to Ward’s $245,877. Minnick, meanwhile, has piled up $885,844 for his re-election bid and has $642,322 cash on hand.

Among the candidates who’ve expressed interest in the race over the past year is the congressional seat’s former occupant, Sali. But Sali has made no announcement and didn’t return a reporter’s calls Tuesday.

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

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