BOISE - Idaho 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick has gone negative, airing a new TV commercial across the district attacking GOP challenger Raul Labrador for his work as an immigration lawyer and suggesting it means he profits from illegal immigration.
Labrador called the ad “disgusting,” “disgraceful” and “shameful,” and said it “succeeds in only twisting and editing my words into quotes that are blatantly untrue.”
Minnick’s campaign defended the ad, with campaign manager John Foster saying, “Raul’s clients may deserve fair representation, but so do the people of Idaho. These are very tough times, and people deserve to know the truth about their candidates.”
The ad suggests that “illegal immigration may be good for Raul Labrador” because of his line of work, and says, “That sure makes him wrong for Idaho.” It includes an audio clip of Labrador saying, “Now I like it, because I make a good living because of it.”
Both campaigns acknowledge that that was a comment at the end of a statement in which Labrador decried the nation’s current immigration system as “broken.” Labrador has promoted his background as uniquely qualifying him to tackle the immigration issue in Congress.
While speaking to the Treasure Valley Pachyderms, a Republican group, in March, Labrador said, “Our system is broken and this is where I work with the system all the time. I’m trying to get people to go through the legal immigration system. They have to pay me thousands of dollars just to bring somebody to the United States. That’s ridiculous. Now I like it, because I make a good living because of it,” a comment that was followed by a laugh.
Illegal immigration is a hot-button issue in Idaho. When Labrador first announced his campaign for Congress in December of 2009, Hayden Lake Sen. Mike Jorgenson, a fellow Republican, called on him to withdraw from the race because he “is an immigration attorney and admits to defending illegal immigrants in his law practice.” Jorgenson, who has sponsored several anti-immigration bills in the Legislature, was defeated in the May GOP primary; on Friday he criticized Minnick’s ad as unfair and said he was “appalled.”
Phil Hardy, Labrador’s spokesman, said he thought the audio clip of Labrador was “so obviously taken out of context,” and said, “Raul Labrador has very limited means to combat this sort of Orwellian propaganda.”
Labrador, who has badly lagged Minnick in fundraising, has aired no television ads thus far in the campaign.
Hardy also disputed two other claims in the ad, that Labrador’s former “RapidImmigration.com” business advertised “easy to understand advice for illegal immigrants seeking amnesty,” and that an Idaho Statesman article backed up a claim that Labrador’s work helps illegal immigrants “stay in the United States.”
Archived Web pages from the RapidImmigration website offer “Easy to understand pages that will help your immigration goal … as a temporary visitor or permanent resident,” and point to legal options for both the documented and undocumented.
In the Statesman story, Labrador was quoted saying, “My job as an immigration lawyer is to present to the judge a case and say, yes, he committed the crimes, and he’s coming to ask forgiveness of the court. Will you allow him to stay in the United States?”
Labrador also told the Idaho Farm Bureau in 2008 that at least half of those who seek help from his practice are undocumented.
Hardy said, “Look, Raul Labrador is an immigration attorney. That does not make him a bad man.”
He also pointed to a June Lewiston Tribune article that suggested Minnick had equated illegal border-crossing to speeding in a school zone.
Foster said the paper misreported a discussion between Minnick and its editorial board in which they argued over whether a fine was a punishment, and Minnick noted that he’d recently been cited for speeding in a school zone and received a fine, which he considered a punishment. Minnick paid a $141.50 fine for the offense. Foster said the newspaper offered Minnick an opportunity to respond in a guest opinion, but he declined. “You pick and choose your battles,” he said.
Foster said the ad isn’t about the immigration issue, but instead is about questioning Labrador’s claim that his background as an immigration attorney makes him well-qualified to serve in Congress.
Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University, said it’s surprising to see an incumbent who’s ahead in the polls come out with a negative ad at this stage in the campaign. “That’s not typical, and may tell you that Minnick is more concerned about Labrador than a front-runner might ordinarily be,” Weatherby said. “But it also tells you in this political environment, I think candidates are learning from Lisa Murkowski and others: Take nothing for granted. Murkowski did not engage in any negative campaigning with her opponent. She paid a huge price.”
Murkowski is the Alaska senator who was defeated by Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in the GOP primary; she’s considering running in November as a write-in or third-party candidate.
“The polls indicated she had no reason to be concerned, (and had) a sizable lead with an underfunded unknown candidate” challenging her, Weatherby said. “It’s typical that front-runners act like they don’t have an opponent - just ignore their opponent. But this is a different kind of year. Obviously, Minnick is taking no chances.”