There was a time, like four years ago, when Idaho didn’t require much effort from a Mitt Romney.
All a presidential candidate had to do was line up a few big-name in-state endorsements, do a couple of fly-through fundraisers — and move on to more fruitful campaign ground.
Then the Idaho Republican Party’s decided to abandon its laughably late May presidential primary in favor of a caucus on March 6, “Super Tuesday.” Now, all the rules have changed.
Rick Santorum — basking in the glory of his status as the new referred anti-Romney — spent Tuesday speaking to overflow crowds in Coeur d’Alene and Boise. Ron Paul comes to Twin Falls Thursday and Moscow on Friday.
Romney returns to Boise Friday. But in addition to his standard operating procedure — talking to the $1,000 to $2,500 fundraiser circle — he has worked a public event into his Idaho itinerary.
I’ve heard it said that time is one of those inflexible commodities in a campaign. A candidate can always try to fire up the fundraising machinery, but every candidate is allocated the same number of hours in a day. The mere fact that Romney is expending a little bit of that time to talk to the regular folks is telling.
Also telling is the fact that the Romney campaign brought out Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Jim Risch Tuesday, for a counterattack targeting Santorum.
Said Risch of Santorum’s Senate record: “He was a real earmarker up here. I certainly don’t want to demean (Santorum) in any way, but I just really feel comfortable with Mitt Romney when it comes to being able to straighten out this economy. And that’s what this race is all about.”
Well. As long as Risch didn’t mean to demean Santorum.
If you watch how campaigns behave, rather than just focus on what they say, it appears the Romney camp is telegraphing the message that Idaho is in play. Considering the advantages in Romney’s favor — his Western and Mormon Church connections, and endorsements dating back to his 2008 run — that’s significant.
But also prudent.
Santorum managed to attract 2,000 people to his Boise appearance and some 500 people in Coeur d’Alene — numbers that suggest voter curiosity, campaign momentum, or some combination of the two. Paul, meanwhile, still has his Idaho base. He won 23.7 percent of the vote in Idaho’s irrelevant 2008 presidential primary. Both of these insurgent campaigns could benefit from a caucus format that rewards candidates that can draw fervent base supporters who are willing to sit through a lengthy process.
All signs point to a competitive caucus. And, for the first time in a long time, interesting presidential politics in GOP Idaho.
A Santorum landmine?
Santorum stepped onto some treacherous terrain Tuesday night, suggesting he would be open to selling some federal lands to the states or the private sector. “The federal government doesn't care about it,” he said during a question-and-answer session. “It’s just flyover country for most of the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”
I can’t see privatization going over well with Idahoans, of all political persuasions, who covet their access to public lands.
Santorum could ask Otter, who briefly flirted with the notion of a federal lands fire sale to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Or he could ask Rep. Mike Simpson; early versions of his Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill would have turned over 162 acres in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to Custer County and Stanley for residential developments.
Of course, given that Otter and Simpson are Romney supporters, they’ll probably be happy to watch Santorum catch heat on this issue.
Score One for Labrador
As soon as he crossed swords with Attorney General Eric Holder crossed swords in a congressional committee hearing, 1st Congressional District Rep. Raul Labrador had himself a room-service campaign applause line.
Since last fall, Labrador has been calling for Holder’s resignation over the bungled “Fast and Furious” operation, and he continued pressing the case in a Feb. 2 hearing. Holder then committed the political blunder of losing his composure.
“Maybe this is the way you do things in Idaho or wherever you’re from,” Holder said.
Which brings us to Labrador’s re-election announcement Monday. “I know he was a little bit confused during our exchange about which state I was from, but I doubt that he will ever forget that I am from Idaho. And, yes, Mr. Holder, to answer your question — that is how we do things in Idaho. We ask direct questions, and expect direct answers.”
I doubt we’ve heard the last of this talking point.