No doubt Idaho’s GOP establishment has been shitting bricks over US Sen. Larry “Wide Stance” Craig’s refusal to step down and allow the state party to appoint an heir apparent, but nobody really believes the Republicans risk losing this seat in this famously red state, do they? Well, according to a new survey conducted by Democratic pollster Lake Research Partners, um… maybe.
- Idahoans are in the mood for change. Fifty-nine percent of voters believe that things in the United States are pretty seriously off on the wrong track. Only a quarter (26%) believe things are going in the right direction.
- The Republican brand is in decline and a generic Democrat defeats a generic Republican. Forty-two percent of voters would vote for the Democrat in a hypothetical Senate race, compared to 36% who would support the Republican (21% are undecided). The Democrat leads by six points despite a 12-point Republican advantage in partisanship (40% Republican to 28% Democrat, 31% independent). Notably, voters criticize the job performance of President George Bush and Senator Larry Craig. Sixty-six percent of voters say Bush is doing either a just fair or poor job as President and only 33% say he is doing an excellent or good job. Craig is similarly critiqued: 56% just fair or poor, 37% excellent or good.
- Jim Risch is not as strong as conventional wisdom dictates and Democrat Larry LaRocco is rated as popular. Asked to rate their feelings toward some people and organizations using a scale from 0-100, voters rate Risch a “56,” compared to LaRocco who scores a “57.” Despite his years as State Senate President Pro Tempore, and five years as Lt. Governor (including six months as Governor), the supposed Republican frontrunner has no advantage.
- The data follows on the heels of two consecutive strong elections for Democrats in Idaho where voters have trended away from Republicans. In the 2006 State Legislative contests, Democrats managed to flip 6 State House seats from the Republican column. Additionally, Boise’s Democratic Mayor, Dave Bieter, won reelection this past November with 64% of the vote.
Sure, the poll was conducted on behalf of Democratic challenger Larry LaRocco and nobody is suggesting that he is even close to holding the upper hand, but Republicans would have to be nuts to write this seat off as an easy hold in such a volatile political climate. LaRocco is an impressive candidate — a likable economic populist in the mold of Montana’s Brian Schweitzer and Jon Tester — and if he runs an equally impressive (and well financed) campaign, the GOP will be forced to respond in kind. This poses a particular dilemma for the NRSC, which trails its Democratic counterpart by a nearly three to one margin in cash on hand, but has many more seats at risk.
Republicans have 22 US Senate seats to defend in 2008, compared to only 12 for the Democrats, and of the 10 races uniformly considered competitive by Beltway pundits, only one (Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu) is currently held by a Democrat. If the NRSC finds itself spending money fending of LaRocco in Idaho, that’s money it won’t have available to spend defending, say, a very vulnerable Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon, who has a field of credible Democrats vying to take him on next November. And if the NRSC ignores LaRocco, writing off Idaho as a gimme, well, they need only look to the House Republicans’ disastrous strategy in 2006 for a vivid illustration of the possible consequences.
Faced with tight resources and an exploding number of potentially competitive races in the final weeks of the campaign, the NRCC resorted to political triage, ceding first-tier races to the Democrats while assuming the third-tier “Republican favored” races would mostly fall their way. This left the NRCC free to focus most of its resources on the second tier, where it pulled out narrow victories in eight of nine high-profile races, including WA-08. Problem was, Republicans ended up losing not only all the first tier races, but all the third-tier races as well. The NRCC gambled and lost.
It may seem odd to suggest that the road to a 60-seat Democratic majority lies through traditionally red states like Idaho and Alaska of all places, but that’s the beauty of the 50-state strategy that worked so well in 2006. Washington voters may not have a US Senate race on their ballot next November, but there are two key contests on our borders, and both our media and our money will play a big role in determining the winners. Stay tuned.
Well, that’s what I get for not reading Joan. The poll was actually conducted by Myers Research on behalf of Idaho Dem House member Nicole LeFavour, who was considering getting into the race. Joan’s got more details over on Daily Kos.