Editor’s note: The following story ran in the May 26, 2010, Spokesman-Review, and went to press before the vote was called for Raul Labrador. Read an update version of this story.
A contentious race for the GOP nomination for North Idaho’s seat in Congress went down to the wire Tuesday night, as Idaho voters held a typically low-turnout primary election with big consequences.
Up and down the ticket, the election set the stage for major contests in November, while writing the final chapter in other races, including a contested nonpartisan race for the Idaho Supreme Court. In that contest, incumbent Justice Roger Burdick was edging out 2nd District Judge John Bradbury.
The congressional race saw Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador vying for the chance to challenge freshman 1st District Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick in November. Minnick, who was unopposed in the primary, is launching his re-election campaign with a series of appearances around the district over the next week.
With 76 percent of precincts reporting, Labrador led Ward, 47 percent to 40 percent, despite Ward’s large fundraising lead and early start.
Ward, a decorated Iraq war veteran and former aide to then-Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, started campaigning more than a year before the election and piled up big-name GOP endorsements, but struggled through a string of embarrassing revelations in the final weeks of his campaign, culminating in the resignation of his campaign manager. On Friday he held a campaign rally in Boise featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who endorsed him nearly two months ago.
By election day, though, national political blogs were sharply mocking Ward for everything from his campaign flubs to a video mash-up created by an Idaho legislative candidate stringing together similar turns of phrase between a Ward speech and Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention speech. The mash-up was featured in its entirety on Tuesday night by comedian Jay Leno during his monologue.
Labrador, a two-term state representative from Eagle, entered the race in December after state Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, dropped out. Lacking funds for TV ads to get his message out through the district that stretches from Nevada to Canada, he relied on a crew of volunteers and touted his outspoken opposition to Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed gas tax increase last year as evidence he’s a conservative who’d even stand up to his own party on principle. Late in the campaign he won the endorsement of Idaho’s biggest tea party group, Tea Party Boise.
Minnick, a conservative “blue dog” Democrat, already had won the endorsement of the national Tea Party Express, the only Democrat to win that group’s nod.
Labrador, who visited with supporters at the Idaho GOP election-night gathering in Boise while Ward stayed secluded, said, “I think we’ve done a great job. We had such limited fundraising, but as you can tell, we had a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve got a lot of people who really believe in my message, and they believe I’ve been principled in everything I’ve done.”
Labrador had no comment on the national criticism Ward took in the final days of the campaign from sites such as Salon.com, Talking Points Memo and “The Tonight Show.” “My goal is to help Republicans get elected, whatever happens,” he said.
Otter defeated five Republican challengers to win his party’s nomination for re-election to a second term, while former nonpartisan citizen activist Keith Allred defeated Lee Chaney Sr. of Preston to become the Democratic nominee.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, who ran unopposed six years ago for his second term in the Senate, will have opposition this time around. P. Tom Sullivan, an eastern Idaho businessman and former Coeur d’Alene restaurant owner, easily defeated William Bryk, a Brooklyn, N.Y. lawyer who’d never been to Idaho, in the Democratic primary. Crapo brushed off a GOP challenge from Claude “Skip” Davis III of Weiser.
In contested North Idaho legislative races, state Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, defeated their challengers in the GOP primary to clear the way for smooth sailing into another term in November – none of the three have Democratic opponents.
Change is afoot in District 3, however. The open House seat vacated by retiring state Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, drew four Republicans hopefuls. Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, faced a hard-fought challenge from former Montana state Rep. Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens, who was recruited to run against Jorgenson by Clark and Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol.
Hart is unopposed for re-election.
Late Tuesday, Vick led Jorgenson, while lawyer and former restaurant owner Vito Barbieri was leading for the House seat, trailed by, in order, Duane Rasmussen, Jeri DeLange and Fred Meckel. No Democrat has filed for either position.