Idaho Race Offers Differing Views on Real Leadership

Insider Versus Outsider in GOP Primary

Posted September 21, 2009 at 6:23pm

Idaho’s 1st district Republican primary is shaping up to be a study in contrasting ways to run for a party nomination.

On one side is Vaughn Ward, an energetic former Marine and CIA operations officer who sees himself as part of a fresh new generation of GOP leaders.

Although he’s never run for office before, the former Senate legislative aide and Nevada state director for the McCain/Palin campaign certainly has earned his political chops. But Ward is running as the outsider and he makes the case that his leadership on the battlefield has prepared him better for public service than any political campaign could.

On the other side of the primary is Ken Roberts, a state representative since 2000 who currently serves as state House majority caucus chairman. More reserved than Ward, Roberts is a farmer and small-business man who spent eight years on his local school board before running for the state House. He prides himself on having worked his way up through the ranks of the state party.

“We think if someone has a proven record for the last 10 years with over 4,000 votes you probably know where they stand, and that’s what I have,— Roberts said. Ward “has been doing something that he needs to be appreciated for and that’s serving the country in the military. … But I do know the issues of the state of Idaho.—

As 1st district Republicans look to target freshman Rep. Walt Minnick (D), Ward said it’s going to take a proven leader “not another politician— to help the party win back a seat that many believe it should have never lost.

“He has 18 years on the school board and in the state Legislature. I have 18 years of service as a leader in the Marine Corps and the CIA,— Ward said. “I have the experiences in leadership that this country is sadly lacking.—

The endorsement and money races have yet to show either candidate with a clear edge.

Roberts, who officially joined the race in July, has more than 30 state legislators in his corner as of this week.

On Monday, Roberts wouldn’t say how much money he’s raised so far this quarter, but he said he’s working hard and has 10 fundraisers planned in the next nine days. The Speaker of the state House is hosting one of those events Saturday, and he’s also circulating a fundraising letter on Roberts’ behalf.

Ward has a single state Senator on his endorsement list but he says others are on the way. He said that Roberts’ influence as a member of the state House leadership may be keeping other state legislators from endorsing his campaign while the Legislature is in session. For now, Ward said, he’s concentrating more on gaining support at the grass-roots level rather than the state Legislature (although it’s interesting to note that he recently sent out a press release hailing the hiring of a field director who is the son of a current state Senator and a former state Senator).

But Ward’s list of campaign donations includes checks from six Members of Congress, including McCain’s political action committee. All those donations were received before Roberts was officially in the race, but Ward said there will be more Members’ names appearing on his third-quarter Federal Election Commission report.

After raising about $50,000 in an abbreviated first quarter, Ward raised about $75,000 in the second quarter. Some GOP operatives said that figure could have been better considering the fact that Roberts didn’t get into the race until midsummer. Ward said Monday that he expects to have raised $100,000 during the third quarter and to report close to $200,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

Republican insiders say either candidate would give Minnick a competitive race next year, and the National Republican Congressional Committee seems to agree. Both men have been included in the committee’s “Young Guns— program that targets resources and assistance to top GOP challengers.

“Idaho families are lucky to have in the running two outstanding Republican candidates focused on fiscal responsibility and bringing jobs back to Idaho,— NRCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said Monday. “Both candidates are working hard to meet the benchmarks set forth in the NRCC’s Young Guns program and we look forward to seeing the best candidate for Idaho emerge and defeat Walt Minnick.—

The one person who could throw a wrench into those plans is former Rep. Bill Sali (R), whom Minnick ousted last year. Sali was a controversial figure during his time in Congress and in the Idaho Legislature, and he proved to be his own worst enemy on the campaign trail. But he is still well-known and continues to be mentioned as a possible candidate again in 2010.

Regardless of who emerges on the Republican side, Minnick spokesman John Foster said the freshman Congressman is well-prepared.

“Walt takes a great deal of pride on his record of having the most independent voting record in Congress,— Foster said. And when it comes to the campaign side of his job, “Walt has shown incredible consistency as a fundraiser. … Walt will have everything he needs to run a strong campaign.—

Greg Smith, an Idaho pollster and onetime Republican operative, said that while Roberts may have the better résumé, Ward is leading in fundraising and at this point neither GOP candidate can claim the title of frontrunner in the primary.

Meanwhile, Republicans are waiting for Minnick to take a vote that isn’t in line with his conservative district. But to Minnick’s credit, “he just simply hasn’t done it— Smith said. “Now, could that change on health care, I don’t know. … We’ll see how Walt votes.—