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Democrat launches campaign against Idaho Sen. Risch

Nels Mitchell launches his Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate at the Boise Depot on Tuesday, challenging GOP Sen. Jim Risch (Betsy Russell)
Nels Mitchell launches his Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate at the Boise Depot on Tuesday, challenging GOP Sen. Jim Risch (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Boise attorney Nels Mitchell launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate against Idaho Sen. Jim Risch on Tuesday, calling Risch an “out of touch” career politician and pledging if elected to serve just one six-year term.

“Six years is a long time,” Mitchell said. “I will give the people of Idaho 110 percent for the next six years, and then I intend to return to private life.”

Mitchell, 60, is making his first run for public office. He noted that legendary Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church had only run once, unsuccessfully, for the state Legislature before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

“When I was growing up here in Boise, Frank Church was my hero,” Mitchell said, noting that Church served as student body president at Boise High School 29 years before Mitchell did the same.

Mitchell is an unabashed Democrat, in a state where Republicans now hold every seat in Idaho’s congressional delegation, every statewide office and 80 percent of the seats in the Legislature. Introducing his 91-year-old mother, Frankie Mitchell, he said, “My mom attributes her good health to the fact that she’s a lifelong Democrat.”

Mitchell said jobs will be his top priority, and decried Idaho’s fall to 50th on such measures as average wage and per-capita income. “Someone has not been minding the store, and that someone is Jim Risch,” Mitchell declared. “He’s been much too busy taking junkets and going to the theater.”

He also faulted Risch for voting against funding for the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho, calling the INL “one of the best employers in the state.”

Mitchell pledged to work with Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson on his wilderness proposal for the Boulder-White Clouds mountains, which Risch has opposed; and said like GOP Sen. Mike Crapo, he’d have co-sponsored the reauthorization of the two-decade-old Violence Against Women Act, which Risch voted against; the bill passed the Senate last February on a 78-22 vote.

Former state Sen. Mike Burkett, D-Boise, who introduced Mitchell, dramatically defeated Risch for a state Senate seat in 1988 when Risch was a long-serving Senate leader; it took Risch until 1995 to come back as an appointee, but he worked his way back up into leadership and served two terms as lieutenant governor and a seven-month stint as governor before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.

“There are those who will say that Risch can’t be beat – he’s a Republican, it’s a red state, he’s got all the money, he’s an incumbent,” Burkett told a crowd of about 80 Mitchell supporters. “Folks said that back in 1988. It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.”

Mitchell has been an attorney for more than 30 years and is the former regional trial counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission. He holds a law degree from the University of Idaho and is a graduate of Columbia University.

Former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus said, “The Democrats have got a good shot this time. Is it going to be easy? No. But when they’ve got the money and the organization, we ought to have the people. He’s an outstanding candidate – look at his resume. Now we’ve got to raise enough money to tell the story.”

Democratic activist and former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Betty Richardson said she first met Mitchell in high school. He was running for a statewide student leadership position, and she was running his opponent’s campaign. “He’s cut from the same cloth as Cece Andrus and Frank Church – we can’t do much better,” she said.

Risch, also an attorney, announced last April that he’ll run for re-election to a second term in the Senate.