As Betsy Russell and The Mountain Goat reported, almost all of Idaho’s leading Republicans have endorsed Jim Risch in his quest to replace Larry Craig. (We’re not sure yet about potential challenger Lawrence Wasden.) Russell also reported that Idaho GOP Chair Kirk Sullivan took the unusual step of endorsing a candidate before the primary election. Most of the speculation is that this is a means of pressuring Craig to fold his tent and go home.
I suppose that is an explanation, but I also smell fear.
Just think of the embarrassment for the Idaho GOP if Idaho, the reddest of the red states, elects a Democratic senator. The national GOP is going to be focusing attention and showering money on Idaho to save the seat. They want a reliable, safe GOP senate seat that they don’t have to worry about every election, so it’s worth investing in this time around. We saw the same thing last election when the GOP establishment - and the Club for Growth - pulled out all the stops to prevent Larry Grant from picking up the House seat. (Larry LaRocco is a strong candidate, so expect the GOP and CFG to come after him.)
The Idaho GOP has elements of a political machine. Because all the goodies are coming from GOP congressmen, it helps perpetuate them in office. Get a Democrat in office and suddenly it’s not just the GOP that delivers.
Even worse for Idaho Republicans, a Democratic senator will always be identified as the Democratic senator from Idaho, and Idaho voters will see a very visible Democratic politician. They might begin to realize that a Democratic can adequately represent them and start to actually look at the candidates instead of just reflexively voting R. Once the monopoly is broken, the whole machine could fall apart.
Idaho GOP leadership is massing behind Risch to convince Craig to go, but they want Craig go because staying threatens the GOP stranglehold on Idaho politics. Add Craig’s trouble to the closed primary and rightward lurch that will bring, and Idaho becomes a much friendlier place for Democrats.