BOISE, Idaho — State Rep. Raul Labrador defeated Vaughn Ward in western Idaho's 1st Congressional District and punched his ticket to face incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick in November.
"My friends, the key to our renewal is liberty," Labrador told a cheering crowd at GOP headquarters in Garden City shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday. "The answer to Obamaism is liberty."
Ward, a Marine reservist and a first-time candidate, had a 6-to-1 money edge and the backing of the Idaho and national GOP hierarchy. Ward was a commanding presence on TV, while Labrador ran only a smattering of radio spots in the final two weeks. Both are from Eagle.
The House race grabbed national attention in the final days after Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, came to Boise Friday to rally for Ward, who was the Nevada state director of the McCain-Palin campaign.
Labrador told the Idaho Statesman that the secret to his win was his consistent conservative message: "I didn't just say it. I've always acted the same way."
Ward's missteps — including plagiarizing other candidates' websites, misusing pictures of himself in uniform, and calling Puerto Rico a country — raised questions about his fitness as a candidate.
The contest came with a backdrop of voter anger fueling the tea party movement, with strong support in Idaho. Tea Party Boise backed Labrador, but the movement's biggest celebrity, Sarah Palin, campaigned for Ward.
"Basically I don't like the direction the country's going," said Stephanie Clark, 43, a computer lab editor from Boise. "It's bigger government, bigger deficits, and we're straying from the Constitution."
Turnout appeared light for a primary with few races on the Democratic ballot and with only onemajor statewide contest — the nonpartisan race for Supreme Court.
As Election Day broke, voters received computer-generated phone calls with a message from Palin calling Ward a hero.
Dave Benson, 44, of Middleton, said he knew little about Ward or Labrador, but the Palin visit was decisive: "Palin loves the guy, so he can't be all bad."
Palin's help, however, cut both ways. Janice Aagaard, 67, of Boise, said she finally decided against Ward for two reasons: He still owns a house in Virginia and rents in Eagle, and she dislikes Palin.
"I'm not a fan of Sarah's, so once she hooked up with Ward and the fact he doesn't have a permanent home here, I couldn't vote for him," said Aagaard, a retired administrative manager.
Ward's stumbles were an issue for Robert Cutler, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Meridian. He calls Palin "my hero," but said Ward's apparent borrowing of rhetoric from President Obama for a key speech troubles him.
"I plagiarize a lot," said Cutler, 57. "I figure God wants me to plagiarize the Scriptures. But it matters who you're plagiarizing from."
Read more of this story at IdahoStatesman.com