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Ambitious Pols Await Official Word on Craig’s 2008 Re-election Plans

Brother, can you spare a Democrat?

While blue was clearly “in” in most of the country last cycle, red was still fashionable in Idaho, where Republicans swept all federal contests and races for statewide office. [IMGCAP(1)]

Though former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho) — who worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., after his Congressional tenure — is considered a solid 2008 Senate candidate, the relative strength of the two major political parties in the Gem State is clearly reflected in their respective bullpens.

The Republicans, if need be, can turn to seven individuals who hold a statewide constitutional office, including Gov. Butch Otter and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who served as acting governor last year. The Idaho GOP also can mine the Legislature for federal candidates, as the party holds a supermajority in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have last year’s losers, which include LaRocco, who was creamed by Risch (he lost by 20 points) in the lieutenant governor’s contest.

“The Republican Party in Idaho is stronger than it has ever been,” said Jayson Ronk, executive director of the state GOP. “The liberal wave that swept the nation last year stopped at the borders of Idaho. We actually became more Republican.”

This cycle, the Republican field appears set. Freshman Rep. Bill Sali (R) isn’t going anywhere in the 1st district and five-term Rep. Mike Simpson (R) looks primed to run for re-election in the 2nd district.

But Sen. Larry Craig (R) remains a bit of a question mark.

Although there is no indication the third-term incumbent plans on retiring, he has yet to reveal what he will do next year. Craig’s office said the Senator would announce his

plans in late summer or early fall, noting that he banked about $379,258 to close the first quarter and continues to maintain a healthy fundraising schedule — both in Idaho and in D.C.

Craig, who did not announce his re-election plans the last time around until March 2002, is about on the same fundraising pace for the 2008 cycle that he was at this point in 2001.

Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said the Senator has more cash on hand now than he did at the end of the first quarter, thanks both to fundraisers he’s held so far in the second quarter and to an event held in late March that will show up in the next Federal Election Commission report due out in mid-July.

Should Craig retire, Risch has all but said he will run to replace him. And, considering the manner in which he disposed of LaRocco in the lieutenant governor’s race, the Republicans would look to be in a good position to hold the seat if it becomes open.

Besides Risch, the Republicans have a bevy of elected officials who have proven their mettle in statewide races, including Otter, if he ever decided that he missed Capitol Hill (he served three terms in Congress before winning the 2006 gubernatorial election). Beyond the governor, there is state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (R) and state Treasurer Ron Crane (R).

State Sen. Brad Little (R), the Majority Caucus chairman, also is talked about as a potentially formidable Senate candidate somewhere down the road.

The Democrats, meanwhile, might cast their net a little wider as they search for potential Senate candidates. One individual they might try to recruit is Boise City Councilman Alan Shealy. The councilman and former professional financial industry whiz is officially nonpartisan, but Democrats and Republicans perceive him as a potentially formidable candidate for higher office — and believe he could be persuaded to run as a Democrat.

Democrats also are eyeing professional mediator Keith Allred, a Boise State University professor who formerly taught at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The native Idahoan runs The Common Interest, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, grass-roots organization that lobbies state government on various issues from a centrist perspective.

In the meantime, however, Idaho Democrats appear happy with LaRocco. They believe his Washington connections will help him raise money and ensure he can give Craig, or whoever the Republican candidate is, a serious challenge.

“LaRocco is a tough campaigner,” said one Idaho Democratic operative.

In Idaho’s two House districts, Republicans have plenty of elected officials to tap in the event that one or both of these seats were to open up. As with the Senate, the Democratic cabinet is not quite as stocked.

In the 1st district, which covers Western Idaho, including the northern neck, the GOP could turn to Crane and Little, as well as state Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner. Norm Semanko (R), who came up short against Sali last year in the crowded GOP primary to replace Otter, also remains a viable House candidate. Semanko is the executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association.

The Democratic talent pool in the 1st district features two individuals, both of whom are running in the 2008 primary.

Attorney Larry Grant (D), who came close to upsetting Sali in the 2006 race to replace Otter in Congress, is running again. Hoping to upend him for the Democratic nomination is Rand Lewis, a former counterterrorism consultant who now works as a real estate appraiser.

In the Eastern Idaho 2nd district, Republicans could potentially choose from state Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis; state Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, and state Senate Judicial and Rules Chairman Denton Darrington.

For a 2008 challenger to Simpson — and beyond — Democrats here might look to former state Rep. Jim Hansen, who got pummeled by the Republican incumbent last year, or possibly state Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett and state House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet.

Despite the fact that Craig has not telegraphed his plans for 2008, Simpson has been reluctant to express an interest in running for Senate if there is a vacancy next year or in the unlikely event that Sen. Mike Crapo (R) decides not to seek a third term in 2010.