The candidates vying to face freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick — state Rep. Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward, both of Eagle — are separating into camps representing the Idaho Republican Party's establishment and libertarian-conservative reform wings.
Ward made his official announcement at the Statehouse Tuesday afternoon and the crowd was loaded with GOP luminaries, including Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor, U.S. senator, U.S. secretary of the Interior and Boise mayor.
Ward worked for Kempthorne in his 1992 Senate campaign and joined his Capitol Hill staff after graduating from Boise State University. Ward was a campaign staffer for Sen. John McCain's presidential effort in Nevada in 2008.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, State Board of Education Member Milford Terrell and Canyon County Prosecutor also shared the podium with Ward.
Among those attending in support of Ward were Eva Gay Yost, an influential party stalwart and aide to former GOP Gov. Phil Batt; Will Hart and Mike Tracy, former spokesmen for former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig; Phil Reberger, a top staffer to Kempthorne and former U.S. Sen. Steve Symms; Jerry Deckard, a former GOP lawmaker and Eagle mayor, now a lobbyist; and Brian Whitlock, a former Kempthorne chief of staff and now a lobbyist for the Idaho National Laboratory.
State Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, was there to watch Ward, saying, "I'm not endorsing, I'm intrigued by Vaughn. A lot of my friends up north are suggesting I listen to him closely because they relate to his message."
Anderson, a moderate, supported Gov. Butch Otter's effort to raise fuel taxes last year, while Rep. Raul Labrador, Ward's opponent, was among Otter's most outspoken critics.
"I will say this," continued Anderson, "I like Vaughn's message as opposed to Raul's message. I have some history with Raul's message. On solutions to real problems, he and I have had conflict."
Labrador was a key player in the 2008 defeat of Idaho GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan, who was replaced by Norm Semanko, who ran for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2006 and lost to Bill Sali, whom Minnick beat in 2008.
Ward, a native of Twin Falls, returned to Idaho in 2007 and considered running against Sali in the 2008 GOP primary. Sali is popular among supporters of former GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul and Labrador is counting on solid support from the group.
Jeffrey Laing, an Ada County precinct committeeman and former Libertarian candidate for the Legislature in California, said he's with Ward, despite Labrador's popularity among many of his friends.
"I'm getting a lot of pressure from the Ron Paul people to support Raul Labrador," said Laing, who carried a Vaughn Ward sign at the announcement. "But I'm not supporting Raul because Raul supported Mitt Romney (for president), and Mitt Romney is a big socialist."
Laing also said he preferred Ward's experience as a Marine, contrasted with Labrador's career as a lawyer. "He's an attorney. Need I say more? I'd rather support a vet than an attorney."
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