Politics & Government

Idaho lt. governor leads in money race to replace Craig

WASHINGTON — Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has raised nearly $1 million so far in his bid to replace Larry Craig in the U.S. Senate, a fundraising firestorm that could spark the most expensive election season in Idaho history.

Republican pollster Greg Smith, who for now isn't working for any of the candidates in the state's House or Senate races, predicted that candidates will spend at least $10 million in Idaho on the Senate race and the state's two House races.

"All things equal in Idaho...it will be rather expensive," Smith said.

Risch raised $512,893 in three months, bringing his campaign account to $936,000, according to a report he filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission. Risch, the frontrunner Republican in a seven-way primary race, also loaned his own campaign $380,000, FEC reports show.

Larry LaRocco, the leading Democratic in the race, came nowhere near Risch's numbers. LaRocco, who lost to Risch in the 2006 race for lieutenant governor, raised $196,607 in the first three months of 2008. He has $253,706 in the bank.

But LaRocco also said his fundraising has been on an upward trend since he entered the race nearly a year ago. He and his wife attend small house party fundraisers as much as three times a week where they pick up about $700 or $800, LaRocco said. He also had a fundraiser in March with U.S. Sen. John Tester, D-Mont.

LaRocco said he thinks it will cost him at least $3 million to run the race — roughly the amount of money Craig raised in his 2002 campaign.

"I know what it takes to fund the campaign, but I'm not worried we won't have the resources," LaRocco said. "We will have the resources to compete."

But Risch, the likely GOP candidate, was skeptical of his potential Democratic opponent's fundraising prospects. Tuesday afternoon, the lieutenant governor did some quick division on his desktop calculator to show how much money LaRocco would have to raise between now and November to close the gap on $3 million.

With 203 days left until the Nov. 4 election, LaRocco would need to bring in roughly $12,315 a day, Risch pointed out.

"You know what Ronald Reagan said? Numbers are stubborn things," Risch said.

Risch still has to fend off seven Republicans in the May 27 primary. No FEC reports were available for the other GOP candidates or the two independent candidates in the Senate race, but some of the contenders provided the Statesman with preliminary numbers.

Republican Scott Syme of Wilder, said he raised $42,350 in the first three months of the year.

In the House, one Republican incumbent, Rep. Bill Sali, who was elected to Congress just two years ago in the western Idaho district, has had disappointing fundraising numbers compared to his Democratic opponent, businessman Walt Minnick.

Sali raised $107,600 in the first three months of 2008, said campaign manager Michelle Glasgow. Minnick pulled in twice that: $227,586. Minnick spent almost as much as he took in, but at the end of the reporting period, he had $327,909 in the bank. Sali had $124,200 and his FEC filings show that he continues to owe $134,673 from his 2006 campaign.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted the first-term congressman for ouster and has pledged to help the Democrat in the race. Their counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee responded by naming Sali as one of the ten most threatened congressmen in the country and have appealed to GOP donors nationwide to send him contributions.

Sali also faces a primary against Matt Salisbury of Nampa. Salisbury's FEC filings weren't available late Tuesday.

Democrat Larry Grant, who took on Sali in 2006, dropped out of the race last week, freeing Minnick from a costly Democratic primary and allowing him to focus on the general election.

In the race for Idaho's other House seat, incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson, also a Republican, raised $46,200 and has $114,409 in his campaign coffers. The two other Republicans in the primary haven't submitted anything to the FEC. Both Democrats in the race also haven't yet filed any fundraising reports.