Republicans are spending the early days of the 1998 congressional campaign in the 2nd District beating up on each other, to the point that former Democratic Congressman Richard Stallings could be gaining ground even though he isn’t actively running yet.
The GOP contenders’ jockeying for primary support could leave the party so divided through the summer and fall that Stallings might just be handed the congressional seat he’s won four times previously.
It appears to be conservative elements attacking the moderates so far.
In recent days, former Rep. Sylvia McKeeth of Boise said the conservative Idaho Eagle Forum will oppose state Rep. Mark Stubbs of Twin Falls because of his 1993 vote against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.
David Ripley of the Idaho Chooses Life political committee said it won’t back House Speaker Michael Simpson because he voted against an anti-abortion bill seven years ago.
Simpson contends he voted against House Bill 625 in 1990 because he was advised it was unconstitutional by a number of people - including David Ripley.
Even Kootenai County Commissioner Ron Rankin, who lives about as far from the 2nd District as anybody can, put his 2 cents in several days ago. He called on state GOP Chairman Ron McMurray to disavow Stubbs’ vote on the flag-burning bill. Allowing Stubbs to win the nomination, Rankin said, would hurt Republicans statewide.
State Sen. Stan Hawkins of Ucon, who has Ripley backing him along with Rankin allies, tried to stay positive. He promised that if elected, he would support a constitutional amendment sponsored by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to prohibit burning or other physical desecration of the American flag.
And showing he knows just who votes in Republican primaries, Hawkins claimed to have the best conservative credentials of anybody in the race to replace Republican Michael Crapo, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
Stubbs is getting his Magic Valley law practice in shape for an extended absence during the campaign. He has volunteer help from party activist Mike Duff, who managed Helen Chenoweth’s successful 1994 upset of Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco. Duff’s allegiance might signal an effort to appeal to the conservative wing.
Meanwhile, Stubbs still is bristling over all the talk about his 1993 vote on flag-burning. He opposed the nonbinding memorial on the grounds it violated free speech rights.
“I’ll compare my patriotism to Stan Hawkins’ patriotism any day of the week,” he said. “I don’t like flag-burners any more than Sylvia McKeeth likes flag-burners. They both miss the point big time.”
Former GOP state Sens. Ann Rydalch and Dane Watkins, both of Idaho Falls, have formed exploratory committees but haven’t been very active so far. If they stay in the race, Hawkins stands to see them siphon 8 percent to 10 percent of the conservative vote from him in the Upper Snake River Valley. That would make it easier for the more moderate Stubbs or Simpson to capture the nomination.
Stallings, meanwhile, is waiting to make his formal announcement until after the first of the year. He is executive director of Pocatello Neighborhood Housing Services and won’t take a leave of absence until later.
He’s starting to put together a staff to make what would be his sixth campaign for the seat he gave up in 1992 to unsuccessfully run against Republican Dirk Kempthorne for the U.S. Senate.
For Republicans, the 1978 gubernatorial primary might be coming to mind. Democrat John Evans was campaigning for a full four-year term after moving up to the state’s top job when Cecil Andrus resigned in 1977 to become President Jimmy Carter’s Interior secretary.
The most conservative candidate in a six-way race, then-House Speaker Allan Larsen of Blackfoot, scraped together just enough votes to win the GOP nomination. But he couldn’t generate much statewide support and lost by 55,000 votes to Evans in the general election.
Of course, the 2nd District is more conservative than the state as a whole, and it might be that the Republican with the most conservative credentials wins the nomination. But Stallings still will be a favorite in November.
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