- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

 

This may turn out to be a great election year for Republicans, but it hasn’t been a great year for the Republican establishment.

Another handpicked GOP candidate fell Tuesday, when Idaho Republicans rejected Vaughn Ward in favor of Raul Labrador in a key House primary race. A former Marine, Mr. Ward had the strong backing of the National Republican Campaign Committee and even an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

But he lost in the Tuesday primary in a five-candidate field, receiving 38.9 percent of the vote, to Mr. Labrador, a businessman and “tea party” favorite who garnered 47.6 percent. The Associated Press called the election for Mr. Labrador on Wednesday morning.

Hours later, the candidates appeared together at a Republican unity rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Boise. Mr. Labrador later told The Washington Times that he expected national Republicans to rally behind his campaign.

“I think I’ll get the backing of all Republicans,” said Mr. Labrador. “This is an important seat for Republicans if we want to regain the House.”

The rejection of the party-blessed candidate is part of an emerging trend in this midterm election, with states across the Mountain West in the forefront.

In Utah, three-term incumbent GOP Sen. Robert F. Bennett failed to make a primary runoff amid charges he had become a free-spending Washington insider. In Arizona, former GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain faces a spirited primary challenge from ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth. In the Colorado and Nevada Senate primaries, the Republican hopefuls widely seen as the official party’s choice are struggling to hold their leads against more conservative insurgent challengers.

In Idaho’s primary, the anti-establishment mood was complemented by what was widely seen as a gaffe-riddled campaign waged by Mr. Ward, once seen as one of the party’s prize recruits in one of its best chances for a pickup.

Despite a 6-to-1 fundraising edge, he was unable to surmount a series of missteps and self-inflicted wounds that left him constantly on the defensive. He was accused of plagiarizing parts of other candidates’ position papers on his website, which he later removed.

Mr. Ward also appeared in uniform in a campaign ad without including the disclaimer that the military does not endorse candidates. Then he incorrectly referred to Puerto Rico, where Mr. Labrador was born, as a “country.”

The day before the election, Republican Sen. Michael D. Crapo rebuked Mr. Ward for including a quote from the senator in a campaign e-mail, making it appear as though Mr. Crapo had endorsed him. Mr. Crapo has a policy against endorsing primary candidates.

The missteps were enough to lose him the endorsement of the Idaho Statesman. In a May 23 editorial, the newspaper called Mr. Ward “untrustworthy” and threw its support behind Mr. Labrador.

“Ward is a remarkable soldier. As a candidate, he is unendorseable,” said the editorial.

After Wednesday’s rally, Mr. Ward told reporters that he had thrown his support behind Mr. Labrador and took responsibility for his campaign’s implosion.

“I accept full responsibility for everything that happens on the campaign,” said Mr. Ward, adding that his efforts to correct the campaign stumbles were “too little, too late.”

While publicity surrounding the mistakes undoubtedly hurt the Ward campaign, Mr. Labrador said he was already building momentum.

“I think that was icing on the cake, but early exit polls showed that I was ahead in early balloting before the gaffes,” said Mr. Labrador. “I’ve been in the state legislature for four years, and people know my record.”

The Labrador campaign received an early boost by winning the backing of Tea Party Boise - “It really helped, absolutely,” said Mr. Labrador - but its impact may be diluted in the general election. That’s because Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest tea-party group, earlier endorsed Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, who currently holds the 1st District seat.

Mr. Labrador said he thought the local support would prove more valuable. “The national tea party may give you money, but they don’t have boots on the ground,” he said.

Mr. Minnick, whose conservative voting record makes him something of a DINO - Democrat in Name Only - was the only Democrat to receive the national tea party’s support. The first-term Democratic incumbent has also raised almost $1 million and will likely have the fundraising edge.

Minnick spokesman John Foster said the Democratic congressman planned to emphasize his dedication to constituent service.

“He’s a businessman, so he wants to provide good customer service,” said Mr. Foster.

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