Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Idaho Senate Race: Over Before It Began?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) lost his 2006 bid to become Idaho’s lieutenant governor against Jim Risch (R). The two men are facing each other again this cycle for the Senate, and when LaRocco entered the race, some local Democrats and enthusiastic bloggers tried to make the case that 2008 was a much different race and that LaRocco could prevail.

LaRocco lost by 19 points in 2006, and with six weeks left, LaRocco has yet to crack 37 percent in more than a half-dozen public polls. It’s a remarkably clear trend.

Two years ago, Risch defeated LaRocco 58 percent to 39 percent. Risch was elected lieutenant governor previously but became acting governor when Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) left for President Bush’s Cabinet. Risch opted for re-election as lieutenant governor because Rep. Butch Otter (R) was running for governor.

Ten months later, a September 2007 SurveyUSA poll had LaRocco at 36 percent (compared with 52 percent for Risch), and a November 2007 Myers Research and Strategic Services (D) poll pegged LaRocco’s support at 34 percent, while Risch was at 48 percent. A Robinson Research (R) survey showed LaRocco down 46 percent to 27 percent.

At the end of May, LaRocco’s own poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, showed the former Congressman losing 43 percent to 28 percent.

The Democratic scenario is multifaceted, including Risch ducking debates and the difference between state and federal office, among other points, but it is simply not bearing itself out in the polls.

A July Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos (D) had Risch leading 42 percent to 32 percent, but a just-released Sept. 16-17 R2K survey showed Republican voters solidifying behind Risch (56 percent), with LaRocco stuck at 33 percent. A separate Greg K. Smith and Associates poll had Risch leading 41 percent to 30 percent.

Part of the Democratic scenario maintained that thousands of new supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) were going to boost LaRocco and that the former Congressman would benefit from the strong campaign of businessman Walt Minnick (D) in the 1st district. But according to the latest Kos polling, Obama is losing the state 62 percent to 33 percent, and Minnick trails in his race by 11 points. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received 30 percent of the vote in Idaho in the 2004 election.

Another problem is that LaRocco doesn’t have the resources to buck the trend. He raised $786,000 through June 30 and finished the second quarter with $242,000 on hand. Risch had $1 million on hand through June, after raising more than $1.5 million and putting in $369,000 of his own money.

To add insult to injury, Idaho voters don’t seem to like LaRocco all that much, according to the latest Kos poll, where he had a 33 percent favorable/55 percent unfavorable rating.

While the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has a significant cash advantage over its Republican counterpart, Democrats don’t necessarily need to win in Idaho to get to 60 seats and are very unlikely to invest in the race.

Independent candidate Rex Rammell is out for revenge against Risch, and some Democrats believe he will take a significant portion of the vote from the Republican’s totals. Rammell is at 3 percent in the latest Kos polling.

Scenarios and rhetoric are nice, but in this case, the numbers don’t lie. This race was over before it began.

This story first appeared on on September 22, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.