BOISE – Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s campaign stopped taking calls Friday and part of his campaign website remained shut down as his campaign manager, Ryan O’Barto, resigned and Ward announced he was bringing in a new team.
The shake-up came after a series of campaign flubs over the past month, culminating in a Spokesman-Review report that half of Ward’s online position statements on issues were identical to those on other candidates’ and congressmen’s websites. The campaign took down the position statements shortly after being contacted by the newspaper on Thursday; they hadn’t been replaced as of the end of the day Friday.
Ward’s new campaign spokesman and media consultant, longtime Idaho GOP activist Mike Tracy, told the Associated Press on Friday that he’s taking over O’Barto’s spokesman duties and that the campaign’s senior finance director, Al Henderson, will be the new campaign manager. Henderson joined Ward’s campaign on April 29; until Friday, O’Barto served as both campaign manager and spokesman.
“He tendered his resignation,” Ward said late Friday on a Boise talk radio show. “It was very hard for me to accept his resignation. He felt it was more of a distraction on the campaign.”
Asked by a caller if he’s blaming missteps on his campaign staff, Ward, a veteran and Marine reservist, said, “Anything that goes wrong on my campaign is my responsibility, just like in the Marine Corps.”
Meanwhile, the Tea Party Boise organization, which previously hadn’t chosen a favorite in the GOP primary race for the 1st District congressional seat, on Friday endorsed Ward’s rival, state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle. The two are vying for a chance to challenge freshman Democratic congressman Walt Minnick.
Ward said on KBOI radio, “To deal with some of our communication issues that I wanted to make stronger, I brought in Mike Tracy, who has a 20-plus-year history of dealing with tough races.” Ward added that Tracy has been volunteering on his campaign, but now will step into the press secretary role.
Tracy is a former press secretary for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig and former executive director of the Idaho Republican Party; he now operates a communications firm in Boise.
Henderson is a longtime Idaho GOP fundraiser; among campaigns he’s worked on are those of Butch Otter, Steve Symms and Larry Craig; he also was a longtime Craig staffer.
Dennis Mansfield, spokesman for rival candidate Labrador, said he was surprised at the big names from the Idaho GOP stepping in to take over Ward’s campaign. “Now that the campaign has imploded at this point, I think they’ve realized they’ve all got an investment of their own reputations in this man who no one knows,” Mansfield said. “So I think it is more of a salvaging opportunity for the GOP leaders’ reputations than it is passionate support for this candidate.”
Ward, who’s been campaigning full time for more than a year, in recent months has received the endorsements of two former governors and other big names in Idaho Republican politics.
Prior to the revelation of the cribbed position statements, Ward was in the spotlight for a series of embarrassing revelations, from being late paying his property taxes on a lot he and his wife own in Valley County to running afoul of Marine Corps regulations in an online campaign ad on the Drudge Report.
A month ago, Labrador, who entered the race in December and has lagged far behind Ward in fundraising, shifted his own full-time campaign manager to part-time consulting and brought on a team of volunteers to run his low-budget campaign. Labrador said then he made the move to concentrate his limited finances on getting his message out; he began airing radio ads on Friday.