Bill Sali's preemptive strike to file paperwork for a 2010 congressional run probably won't sit too well with Idaho's Republican Party establishment.
And that probably doesn't matter much to Sali or to his base of core supporters.
Sali was never a mainstream politico, either in 16 years in the Legislature or in his two years in Congress. Let's not forget Sali's recent history within the Idaho GOP, because many Republicans will remember it: Last summer, Sali threw his support behind the successful move to oust state GOP chairman Kirk Sullivan. If another run for Congress puts Sali at odds with the GOP power structure, a part of Sali would probably relish the moment.
If Sali runs, look for him to try to cobble together a coalition of support among disaffected Republicans who want their party to take a hard turn to the right; small-government libertarian-leaning Ron Paul Republicans; and voters who, recession or no recession, focus on social issues.
An odd alliance — but in a fractured Republican primary, it could be enough to get Sali another nomination. Northwest political blogger Randy Stapilus sums it up well; "Sali won in 2006 in a deeply fragmented field that advantaged him almost perfectly. There’d be strong pressure in the Republican hierarchy to avoid a repeat of that scenario."
But what form does that pressure take? I doubt Republican leaders would be able to talk Sali out of another run. Their energies might be better spent trying to organize behind one candidate for a possible head-to-head primary. The GOP did this in 2007, rallying behind Lt. Gov. Jim Risch and anointing him as the establishment choice to succeed beleaguered and retiring Larry Craig. That strategy worked well for the GOP.
If all of the 1st District's usual GOP suspects decide to run in 2010 — such as Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, former state Controller Keith Johnson and Caldwell state Sen. John McGee — that plays right into Sali's hand. For Sali, the more the merrier.
There are some parallels here to the 2008 race. After losing narrowly to Sali in 2006, Fruitland Democrat Larry Grant was quick to throw in his name for a possible rematch. Walt Minnick jumped into the race later — with the blessing of former Gov. Cecil Andrus, which is the best leadership backing any Idaho Democrat could wish for. After some quick political calculus, Grant bowed out. Minnick had an unopposed primary and ultimately defeated Sali.
The big difference between 2008 and 2010: If Sali follows through on his paperwork and launches a campaign, I can't envision anyone talking him out of it.
Click here for Dan Popkey's story.