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Awaiting Ruling, Craig Stays in Senate for Now

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) put off the end of his political career a bit longer Wednesday, reiterating that he would wait for a resolution to his efforts to withdraw his guilty plea in a Minnesota sex-sting case.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Charles Porter heard oral arguments Wednesday in Craig’s bid to pull out of his guilty plea, which stemmed from a June incident in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

Following those arguments, Porter indicated that he would likely not rule on Craig’s request to have his plea dismissed until late next week. If Craig loses, he can still take his case to appeals court — and if he were to win, the legal proceedings, including a possible full jury trial, could stretch well into next year.

In a brief statement released by his office Wednesday afternoon, Craig said, “Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name. The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea. For now, I will continue my work in the United States Senate for Idaho.”

The case aroused the passions of voters in Idaho and conservative across the country, and in late August, Craig announced that he intended to retire at the end of this month.

But even before that announcement, Craig was planning a legal defense he hopes will not only clear him of the charges but also allow him to remain in the Senate through the end of the session. He has vowed not to run for re-election in 2008, regardless of the outcome of his legal case.

GOP leaders — who called for an ethics investigation into the affair soon after the story broke in August — refused to comment Wednesday on Craig’s decision to wait for a ruling in his court case.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Wednesday, citing the ongoing legal proceedings. Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who led the effort to push Craig out of the Senate when the story broke in August, declined to comment on his colleague’s plan to stick around for awhile longer.

“I don’t have anything to add to my comments,” McConnell told reporters.

Privately, while Republicans said the entire Craig controversy is becoming increasingly tiresome, most said it was unlikely it would have a major impact on the GOP. “I think we’ve become pretty good at having disasters blow up while we’re legislating. We can walk and chew gum at this point,” one Republican said.

Republicans in Idaho, meanwhile, found themselves Wednesday preparing for a resignation that now appears to be days — or weeks or even months — away.

Gov. Butch Otter (R), a former Representative, is charged under state law with appointing Craig’s replacement should he resign before his term expires next year.

Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor was due to finish interviewing prospective Craig replacements on Wednesday. Otter has compiled a list of 29 candidates.

However, Hanian noted that there was little role for Otter to play absent Craig’s resignation.

“No resignation, no vacancy, so no appointment,” he said. “If we receive [a resignation letter] the governor is prepared to act.”

An early favorite to get the nod is Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R), who announced earlier this year that he intends to run for Senate next year if Craig does not seek re-election, as is now the case.

Also being considered are state Rep. Scott Bedke (R); state Sen. Mike Jorgenson (R); state Rep. Russ Mathews (R); state Rep. Ken Roberts (R); state Sen. Gary Schroeder (R); 2006 1st district GOP primary candidate Shelia Sorensen; 2006 1st district GOP primary candidate Robert Vasquez; and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (R), among others.

Sentiment on what Craig should do is mixed in his home state.

Some believe the best thing is for him to honor his original commitment at the end of the month. But others do not seem to be opposed to him remaining in office, barring his ability to do his job effectively.

“When I talk to people, the questions people ask me are: Can he still be effective? Can he still represent us?” one Republican strategist based in Idaho said. “They’re not so caught up in what he did, but if he stays can he do his job.”

Craig’s seat is up for election next year, and former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) is running and has been actively campaigning since earlier this year. But Idaho is solid Republican territory, and the seat should be safe for the GOP nominee.

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