Labrador Tops Ward in Idaho, Will Face Minnick

Posted May 26, 2010 at 5:36am

Idaho state Rep. Raul Labrador won the Republican primary Tuesday in the 1st district, capping a stunning come-from-behind victory over Vaughn Ward, a Marine Corps veteran and former Senate aide who was highly touted by the national GOP.

With more than 90 percent of the vote counted at 2:45 a.m. eastern time Wednesday, Labrador had 48 percent to Ward’s 39 percent. Three lesser-known candidates split the remainder of the vote.

Labrador will face off against Rep. Walt Minnick (D), a freshman who is among the GOP’s top targets this year because he represents such a conservative district.

Ward’s loss was a setback for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which included him as one of its first 10 “Young Guns” in its candidate recruitment and training program.

Though he was long the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Ward’s campaign collapsed under the weight of repeated self-inflicted wounds that raised questions about the professionalism of his campaign operation and his viability as a candidate in a district that Republican officials covet.

Among other stumbles, Ward was forced to explain why he paid some property taxes late and filed an incomplete financial disclosure report, and his campaign appeared to copy some issue statements from the websites of other Republicans. A Ward campaign speech included some passages very similar to those in President Barack Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Ward touted endorsements from well-known Republican figures, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, for whom Ward worked when Kempthorne was a Senator. Palin, a native of the 1st district, campaigned for Ward on Friday.

Labrador jumped out to an early lead and maintained it as late Tuesday became early Wednesday in Idaho. He decisively beat Ward in populous Ada County (Boise) and Canyon County (Nampa). Ward won in Kootenai County (Coeur d’Alene). They essentially fought to a tie everywhere else.

Democrats had long prepared for a campaign against Ward but will now train their focus on Labrador, an immigration lawyer who is serving his second term in the state House and who hasn’t shied from criticizing the GOP establishment.

Labrador begins the general election campaign against Minnick at a great disadvantage in fundraising. As of May 5 he had just $36,000 in his campaign account to Minnick’s $936,000, and the Congressman has since topped the $1 million mark in cash on hand.

GOP officials have signaled that they will link Minnick to Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other national Democrats.

“Unlike Walt Minnick, who enabled the Democrats’ radical agenda by casting his first vote in Congress to install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, Raul Labrador will provide conservative, independent leadership for the people of Idaho,” the NRCC said in a memo early Wednesday.

Democrats say a Minnick-Pelosi comparison is misplaced, pointing to a Minnick voting record that is the most conservative among House Democrats.