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Eye On Boise

Talk about ‘staying on message’

Congressional candidate Bill Sali held a press conference on the Statehouse steps to announce he’s endorsing legislation from an Iowa congressman to declare English the official language of the United States, require all official government business to be conducted in English, and require English tests for new citizens. He gave his statement, then fielded an array of questions from the media, including this reporter, about his position and the issue.

At the end of that, I tried to ask him about Boise pollster Greg Smith’s poll, released last week, that showed Sali slipping behind Democrat Larry Grant in the 1st District congressional race. Sali said he was only there to talk about English. Asked if he had any comments on the poll, on which his campaign issued a scathing press release late last week, Sali said, “I hope it was in English.” Everyone laughed. Afterward, I asked him again for comment on the poll, but even after the press conference, he continued to say English was the only topic he was discussing today.

Smith’s poll showed Grant leading with 22 percent to Sali’s 14 percent, with 61 percent still undecided in the contest that also features independent Dave Olson, United Party candidate Andy Hedden-Nicely and Constitution Party candidate Paul Smith.

Greg Smith, president of Greg Smith & Associates, said Sali saw a “precipitous” drop in support from a similar poll Smith conducted in July, when Sali had a 41-25 percent lead.

The poll was conducted Aug. 28-Sept. 1, and queried 300 likely voters statewide. That means the sample was only about half that in the 1st Congressional District, and Smith said the poll has a margin of error of 7.4 percent. That big of a margin of error could mean the poll is showing a statistical dead heat, as opposed to a big lead for Grant. Still, Smith said the shift from the earlier poll was notable. Other races included in both polls saw little change in their numbers, Smith said. “The change is clearly a result of changing voter sentiment,” he said.

The Grant campaign hailed the poll, saying it matched their own internal polling and was no surprise, reflecting Grant’s “emphasis on resolving issues that are important to Idahoans rather than pursuing a narrow, divisive, and personal social agenda.”

The Sali campaign, on the other hand, issued a press release headed “Flawed poll not credible.” The new Smith poll “bears no resemblance” to Sali’s internal poll results, the campaign said. “Voters all across the First District are responding positively to Bill’s message of lower taxes, limited government, traditional family values and a strong national defense.” The press release dismissed Smith’s “obviously faulty results.”

Campaign manager Jesseca Sali said today that the campaign’s own poll results won’t be released. “That’s not something we will be releasing right now for our own reasons,” she said, though she said the results show “people are agreeing with what Bill has to say.”

Incidentally, both Grant and Hedden-Nicely accused Sali of ducking real issues facing Congress by focusing on the English language issue. “I think we have more important problems to solve in this country than this kind of thing,” Grant said. “I think we need to be talking about how do we get control of spending, how do we get control of corruption, how to end the war in Iraq. This is a diversion so they don’t have to talk about the real problems.”

Hedden-Nicely said, “We’ll be happy to respond, in English, to anything Bill says about the real issues in this race: Congressional term limits, healthcare coverage, high gas prices, decent wages, protecting our borders, improving our schools and the war in Iraq. Bill’s up to his usual trick of trying to bait the hook with red-meat, emotional issues while totally ignoring the fundamental challenges facing our country.”

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.