- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Other politicians may say they’re pro-life, but Marvin Richardson is Pro-Life. The 67-year-old candidate, running as an independent for a U.S. Senate seat from Idaho, legally changed his name earlier this year to Pro-Life. That’s how it will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, along with a brief aside identifying him as a person, not a position.

Don’t accuse Pro-Life of spending too much energy on one topic, though.

“I’m far from a single-issue candidate,” Pro-Life said in a phone interview, pointing out that he also opposes the war in Iraq and nuclear power.

His candidacy is just one of several quirky subplots in this year’s Idaho Senate race, possibly the most interesting campaign in the nation in which the outcome isn’t much in question.

The Republican, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, holds a 20-point-plus lead over his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Larry LaRocco, 62, according to two polls released this month.

It’s hardly a surprise to find a Republican ahead in Idaho, perennial contender for the title of reddest state, until you consider that the candidates are running for the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Larry Craig.

Republicans initially feared that Mr. Craig’s arrest last year in a sex sting at the Minneapolis airport would hurt their chances of holding the seat. So far, however, the episode hasn’t materialized as a campaign issue, said Risch campaign manager Ryan White.

“People are keeping that issue completely separate in their minds,” Mr. White said. “People seem to think of it as a personal problem, a situation involving one person, as opposed to a party problem.”

Mr. Risch, 65, also has had to contend with the candidacy of another independent, Rex Rammell, whose interest in defeating the Republican goes beyond politics.

During his seven-month tenure as governor in 2006, Mr. Risch ordered the shooting of more than 100 privately owned elk that had escaped their ranch and begun mixing with the state’s herds of wild elk.

Those elk were owned by Mr. Rammell, who says the shooting was illegal and has vowed to make Mr. Risch pay for destroying his business. On Friday, he asked the Fremont County prosecutor to file criminal conspiracy and theft charges against Mr. Risch and the state’s Fish and Game director.

Mr. Rammell, 47, also has an ongoing civil lawsuit against Mr. Risch. The lieutenant governor has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the shooting was carried out to protect the health and genetic stability of the state’s prized wild elk.

Mr. Risch also has accused the Rexburg-based rancher of using his candidacy to carry out a personal vendetta, although Mr. Rammell says he had planned to run for the Senate seat before the elk incident.

“I’d say this is a hell of a way to get even with someone - 16 months of my own life, spending my own money because I don’t have a political party behind me,” Mr. Rammell said. “Any animosity between me and Jim Risch will be settled in the courts, not on the campaign trail.”

Mr. Rammell originally ran as a Republican before dropping out of the primary and switching to independent. A recent poll shows him with about 3 percent of the vote, although Mr. Rammell says his own surveys show him at closer to 10 percent.

The Risch campaign dismissed his candidacy. “I’d say he’s more of a sideshow than anything else,” Mr. White said.

A fifth candidate, Kent Marmon, is running as a Libertarian. Although the third-party candidates appear to pose little threat to Mr. Risch, there was a stir after all three reported receiving calls from Republicans urging them to drop out of the race.

Pro-Life, an organic strawberry farmer, said he was contacted by Rep. Bill Sali, a Republican, who’s locked in a tight re-election bid.

“He said, ‘Marvin - he calls me Marvin, he won’t call me Pro-Life - I think you need to get out of this race because the Democrats believe LaRocco can beat Risch,’” Pro-Life said. “It made no sense to me.”

Mr. White denied that the campaign was behind the calls. Mr. Sali could not be reached for comment.

It’s certainly possible that Pro-Life could draw anti-abortion voters from Mr. Risch or perhaps confuse them into voting for two candidates, thus nullifying their ballots.

State legislators were sufficiently concerned to pass a law earlier this year stipulating that candidates whose names reflect a political position would also have to be identified by their former names.

As a result, Pro-Life will appear on the ballot as “Pro-Life (a person formerly known as Marvin Richardson),” according to the office of the Idaho secretary of state.

It’s hard to imagine other states grappling with such issues, but such is life on the 2008 campaign trail in Idaho.

“I’m afraid there’s never a dull moment,” Mr. White said.

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