Freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick is being challenged this year by state representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and two others, in one of Idaho’s most-watched election contests.
Though Minnick vastly outstrips Labrador in fundraising and has led in polls, the district, which takes in all of North Idaho, is heavily Republican; Minnick narrowly defeated then-Rep. Bill Sali two years ago, bringing the seat back into Democratic hands for the first time since 1994.
Minnick’s record as a conservative “blue dog” Democrat has won him support from many of the state’s business interests that traditionally back Republicans; he’s a fiscal conservative who votes less with his party than any other member of Congress, according to the Washington Post’s database of all congressional votes.
Labrador has sought to tie Minnick to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a lightning rod of Republican criticism, and promoted his own conservative record of bucking his party in Idaho to oppose taxes and spending.
Two longshot candidates are vying for votes as well: Independent Dave Olson, 58, a retired Air Force master sergeant who’s critical of corporate bailouts, and Libertarian Mike Washburn, who wants to cut government.
Congressmen serve two-year terms; their salary is $174,000 a year, plus health care benefits.
• Walt Minnick , 68
Bio: Incumbent congressman; chairman, Summerwinds Garden Centers, 1996-2008; ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, 1996; wood products executive, 1974-1995, rising to CEO of TJ International; U.S. Army veteran; former aide in Nixon White House; law degree, Harvard Law School; MBA, Harvard Business School; bachelor’s degree, Whitman College. Married, four children, three grandchildren.
Campaign promises: “I am running to continue working hard for Idaho veterans, seniors and families. Whether it’s fighting red tape for a small business, helping a family with an adoption or standing firm for fiscal responsibility, I promise to always do what’s right for Idaho.”
Notable: A former Republican who was president of the College Republicans at Whitman College, Minnick’s shift to Democrat went public in 1996, when he challenged Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. He’s married to a former Idaho Democratic Party chief.
• Raul Labrador , 42
Bio: Two-term state representative; immigration attorney; owner/managing partner, Labrador Law Offices; law degree, University of Washington; bachelor’s degree, Brigham Young University. Married, five children.
Campaign promises: “I will bring true Idaho conservative values to Washington, D.C. I will always fight for my principles and the principles of the Republican Party: limited government, lower taxes and a commitment to creating jobs without more bailouts or adding to the national debt.”
Notable: Labrador beat a better-funded candidate, Iraq veteran Vaughn Ward, in the GOP primary in May. Labrador made his mark in the Idaho House spearheading opposition to GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a gas tax increase.