Despite the entry of state Rep. Raul Labrador into the GOP primary for 1st District Congress, the campaign committee run by House Republicans continues to back first-time candidate Vaughn Ward.
On Wednesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a news release that Ward had reached "Young Gun" status, the top level of its three-level Young Guns program.
"By advancing to the program’s top tier, Ward has proven his ability to build a winning campaign and achieve substantial fundraising goals," said the NRCC release.
Labrador countered that Ward is relying on the Washington, D.C., establishment, has become a "professional politician" and noted that he's been on the job at the Legislature.
The Young Guns program was started in advance of the 2008 election by GOP Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Kevin McCarthy of California and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Its aim is to support GOP challengers and those seeking open seats.
Ward and Labrador, both of Eagle, face off in the May 25 Republican primary for the right to meet freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick in November.
Ward has been campaigning since April, while Labrador joined the race in November after Idaho House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts withdrew from the contest. Ward also has the backing of some top Idaho Republicans, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
Labrador issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "My opponent in the primary became a professional politician when he began working full-time on his campaign 11 months ago and continues to rely on his relationships with the Washington, D.C., establishment. Not only is my campaign building local support and raising the money needed to win, but I continue to faithfully serve the people of Idaho in the legislature.
"During this campaign, I will continue to balance my responsibilities as a citizen legislator, small business owner, and father. In this week alone, I have introduced a bill to protect tax payers from unnecessary tax increases and another to strengthen the enforcement of illegal immigration laws, while also voting to protect Idahoans from a federal takeover of our health care system and voting to support bringing the F-35 Strike Fighter squadrons to Idaho."
Ward's campaign manager, Ryan O'Barto, responded to Labrador: “With over 1,000 contributors to the campaign, it's clear that Vaughn’s positive message of reining in government spending and bringing jobs to Idaho are resonating with the people of Idaho. It’s also clear that career politician and trial lawyer Raul Labrador has no positive agenda for Idaho.”
The Idaho Republican Party's policy of neutrality in primaries will continue, according to Executive Director Jonathan Parker.
Added Parker: "We are looking forward to teaming up with our nominee post-primary to unseat Minnick in the fall. We believe that Republicans can take back the House and wrest control away from Nancy Pelosi; however, it all starts here in Idaho, it starts with unseating Walt Minnick."
Ward had raised about $351,000 through December, compared to just $83,000 for Labrador, and $50,000 of Labrador's cash came from a loan he made to the campaign.
Minnick had raised about $1,164,000 through December.
The support from the NRCC typically helps candidates draw money from individuals and political action committees interested in backing GOP challengers. Recognition in the Young Gun program does not constitute a formal endorsement by the NRCC, according to a committee spokeswoman. Labrador also could become a Young Gun should he meet program goals including fundraising, grass roots organization and communications.
“Vaughn Ward has proven that he is ready to put this seat back in the Republican column,” said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas in the release. “Vaughn’s campaign is a symbol of the growing momentum behind Republican candidacies both in Idaho and across the country. As Walt Minnick and his party bosses continue to push their big-government, big-spending policies on the backs of hard-working families, Republicans like Vaughn Ward will continue to present a clear alternative to a Democrat majority that continues to spend too much, borrow too much and tax too much at the expense of the American people.”
You can follow Idaho Statesman Politics on Twitter.