BOISE – Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick’s campaign has spent months and money preparing to square off against Republican Vaughn Ward. They even tracked the Marine reservist’s every step along the campaign trail on video.
But GOP voters in western Idaho had different ideas. They selected state Rep. Raul Labrador on Tuesday as the Republican nominee in Idaho’s nationally targeted 1st Congressional District race.
“I think, like most political watchers, we were absolutely anticipating facing Maj. Ward in the general election. A lot of our resources went into framing the race against him,” Minnick campaign manager John Foster said. “Then it became obvious that there was the chance lightning might strike, as it did.”
Labrador managed the primary win on Tuesday night despite Ward, a decorated Iraq war veteran, having a significant fundraising advantage, an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the support of national Republicans.
Now, the campaigns for both Minnick and Labrador are shifting gears.
Minnick’s staff began scrutinizing Labrador’s work as an attorney specializing in immigration law and his record in the Idaho Legislature. The Labrador camp is assembling a staff and a strategy to raise money and reach voters for a general election campaign.
But as he prepares to face Minnick in November, the conservative activist and businessman who helped manage his campaign and served as its press secretary is planning his departure.
Labrador appointed Dennis Mansfield in April, after campaign finance reports showed he was trailing in fundraising and his campaign manager was let go. Mansfield committed to 30 days, a period that ended Tuesday. He said he has agreed to stay while Labrador puts his new team together.
“I signed on specifically to help throughout the primary,” Mansfield said. “I have a number of small businesses I have to attend to.”
Republicans, who hope to win 40 or more House seats and take back control of the House, have set their sights on districts like Idaho’s 1st, where Republican presidential candidate John McCain won 62 percent of the vote in 2008.
But Labrador faces a difficult challenge in taking on Minnick, a conservative first-term Democrat who has spent the last few months padding his campaign checkbook.
Minnick raised more than $117,000 between April 1 and May 5, the last reporting period. That’s roughly eight times the $14,800 brought in by Labrador, a tea party favorite, during that same period.
“I already feel the great responsibility I bear to help the Republican Party this fall taking back the congressional seat,” Labrador told a crowd of supporters early Wednesday after his primary win.