Politics & Government

Idaho Democrat Minnick's defeat turns red state redder

Idaho's top Republicans easily won re-election Tuesday, and the party completed the sweep when challenger Raul Labrador defeated freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick.

Western Idaho's 1st District race remained in doubt until early Wednesday, when Minnick conceded. Minnick left a voice mail message on Labrador's cell phone at 1:28 a.m., Labrador said shortly after 2 a.m.

"He just congratulated me and said he wanted to help me with the transition as professionally as possible," Labrador said.

"Congratulations to Raul Labrador on a hard-earned win, and best of luck as Idaho's next congressman," Minnick's campaign manager, John Foster, wrote in a tweet.With most of the state's precinct results in, Labrador had 49.7 percent of the vote to Minnick's 42.5 percent.

Labrador, a 42-year-old Puerto Rico-born immigration lawyer, came from behind and overcame an onslaught of negative advertising from Minnick.

With more than $2.5 million and a 5-to-1 fundraising edge, Minnick fought to hold a seat that's been in Democratic hands for just six years since 1967. The 68-year-old former CEO's central policy argument was his eagerness to disagree with President Obama on health care, the stimulus bill and overall federal spending.

But Labrador hammered at Minnick's first vote in January 2009, when he joined his Democratic colleagues in electing liberal California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

Pelosi became a symbol of what's wrong with Washington, an argument that won race after race nationwide and turned the House over to the GOP.

Labrador's rise has been among the most spectacular in Idaho political history. Four years ago, he was elected one of 70 members of the Idaho House, representing Eagle and Star and part of West Boise.

Though deeply conservative, Labrador won respect in both parties for his affability and careful work on committees. He rose to prominence in 2009 by vigorously challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter's plan to raise fuel taxes for roads, a fight he won.

Minnick told voters he had to "say no" in Congress to measures that became law over his opposition.

Labrador had a stronger case: When he stood up to powerful interests including his governor and a phalanx of lobbyists, he triumphed, protecting Idahoans from new taxes in the bargain.

Still, Labrador got a late start that could have been crippling. He didn't enter the GOP primary until 11 months ago, after Idaho House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts withdrew, citing health issues.

Labrador stepped into the breach as the true conservative alternative to the choice of the GOP establishment in Idaho and Washington, Marine Maj. Vaughn Ward, who had a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage.

As Ward's campaign imploded in a dizzying series of missteps, Labrador was steady and dignified. Labrador, also buoyed by the backing of Tea Party Boise, scored a 9-point primary win.

When Minnick turned to a barrage of TV ads sharply criticizing Labrador for his law practice, many Idahoans were put off by the personal attacks and the focus on immigration, an issue less timely than the economy and the reach of the federal government.

"One thing I don't like about politics is the other person trying to throw their opponent under the bus," said Labrador voter Whitney Meyer, 23, a student at Boise State University.

Idaho's GOP character was another advantage.

Measured by the makeup of the Legislature, Idaho is the most Republican state in the union.

And Gem State Republicans rode high on a wave of protest against Democrats who'd controlled the White House and Congress for two years.

Among those keen to vote for change was Linda Morris of Meridian. Again.

In 2008, Morris cast her presidential ballot for Obama. On Tuesday, she was with Labrador and other Republicans.

"(Obama) hasn't done what he said he was going to do," said Morris, 62, a vice president of finance for a Boise manufacturer. "I think it's time for a change. Minnick's been there for a long time. Well, it seems like a long two years."

Otter won by a comfortable margin over Democratic newcomer Keith Allred. But there was dark lining to Otter's silver cloud: he will begin his second term with a Legislature likely to be even more hostile to his effort to raise taxes for highways.

While voters pressed for change in Washington, they chose to stay the course in the Idaho Statehouse. In addition to Otter's win, Republicans took the other six state constitutional offices, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's re-election over Democrat Stan Olson.

Jeff Anderson of Boise has met Otter and has confidence in his character in tough times. "It wasn't so much the candidates' positions or party," Anderson said. "It was like: That's the guy I would call in the middle of the night."

Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo also was re-elected by a wide margin and will begin his 19th year in Congress in January. Crapo is a member of the bipartisan commission working on recommendations to trim the deficit.

And as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, he will be in the thick of the debate over tax policy between congressional Republicans and Obama.

With the GOP winning the House, 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson's victory Tuesday means he will lead one of 12 subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee, a post so powerful that chairmen are called "cardinals."

The 1st District stretches from Nevada to Canada and includes a portion of Ada County generally west of Cole Road and all of Canyon County.

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