A three-way congressional primary could be the worst thing that could happen to Idaho Democrats.
Or, perhaps, the best thing.
On Wednesday Walt Minnick jumps into the race to take on 1st District Republican Bill Sali style="text-decoration:underline;">(click here for the story). It sets up — maybe for the first time in years — an interesting Democratic primary. Minnick, the Democrats' U.S. Senate candidate in 1996, joins Larry Grant, the former Micron attorney who lost to Sali a year ago, and Rand Lewis of Coeur d'Alene, an international affairs expert.
This three-way race could hurt Democrats. It could create some splits within the Democratic base — and those fault lines are already starting to form. Minnick will tour the district Wednesday with the Idaho Democrats' undisputed kingpin, former Gov. Cecil Andrus. This certainly ups the ante, especially for Grant, who enjoyed the party's backing in 2006.
If this primary plays out as it now appears, Democrats will face an unfamiliar dilemma: They'll have to close ranks around a nominee. Idaho Democrats don't have much experience closing their base after a primary, and in a congressional district that has voted Republican 19 of the past 21 elections, Democrats would have little margin for error.
Yet this primary could actually help Democrats. They actually have a race with three smart, articulate candidates — and a possible forum to paint Sali as an extremist backbencher. I've interviewed Minnick, Grant and Lewis over the years, and all three strike me as measured and intelligent. I can't predict how these three candidates will behave in a primary, but I don't see a bombthrower in the bunch.
So, perhaps, the Democrats actually put on an interesting, substantive primary that focus 1st District voters on issues such as Iraq, the deficit, entitlement programs, immigration and salmon recovery. Democrats have long griped about how the media have ignored their candidates while focusing on more spirited GOP primaries. This time around, they might just have a primary that deserves attention from reporters — and voters.