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Idaho Republicans Set To Do Battle With Cash and Prayer

“We’re engaged in a battle for the heart and soul of the American people."

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Standing before hundreds of bowed heads under dimmed lights, Father Michael St. Marie opened his June 22 invocation in typical fashion.

"Let us pray," said St. Marie, spiritual leader of St. Edward Parish in Twin Falls.

What followed was anything but a traditional devotion. St. Marie didn't just blur the line between church and state. He decimated it.

"Dear Lord, I ask that on Tuesday, Nov. 7, you find a new job for President Obama," he prayed. In opening the General Session of the Idaho GOP State Convention in Twin Falls, St. Marie was preaching to the converted: not Catholics but Republicans. St. Marie's prayer was greeted by cheers from the 400 attendees representing Idaho's 44 counties.

"I was so impressed that he asked you to pray so fervently," said U.S. Sen. Jim Risch.

Idaho's junior senator was met with polite but tepid applause when he was introduced to convention delegates, but as his oration intensified--bashing large government, high taxes and President Barack Obama--his red state rhetoric was exactly what the gathering craved.

"We're engaged in nothing less than a battle for the heart and soul of the American people," said Risch. "But we drifted away from our founding fathers over the last three or four decades."

Risch failed to mention that five of the last eight U.S. presidents were Republicans, representing 25 of those 40 years.

Risch chose to be pragmatic, though, in forecasting who would be the nation's next person to occupy the Oval Office.

"Tell me who wins Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and I'll tell you who it will be," said Risch. "I think [GOP nominee] Mitt Romney will win Florida. I think Obama wins Pennsylvania. So, I think it all comes down to Ohio. It's going to be a knock-down, drag-out there."

But before Romney secures votes in Ohio, he still has some work to do in Idaho. Rick Martin, a Twin Falls delegate sporting a big-as-his-smile button that read, "Proud to Be a Republican," said Romney was far from his first choice of who should be president. Martin is a fan of Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul.

"I honestly don't think many people in Idaho who supported Ron Paul will vote for Romney," said Martin. "I hope I'm wrong. The Republican Party would be over if Romney can't get the Ron Paul vote."

Martin spent his two days at the Gem State GOP convention trying to convince fellow delegates to wage what he called "a reformation of the Idaho Republican Party from within."

"Gov. [C.L. "Butch"] Otter talks like he's a Libertarian, but his voting record doesn't match his rhetoric," said Martin. "He kept pushing his Idaho IGEM project. He took federal money for that, and I think that's a limited form of fascism."

IGEM is Otter's $5 million Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission to spur economic growth through research.

Martin said if Idahoan Republicans adopted Paul's Libertarian-skewed platform, a robust youth vote would follow.

"Look at Ashley here," said Martin, pointing to 22-year-old Ashley Budden of Twin Falls. "She's the future of our nation."

Budden, an accounting student at the College of Southern Idaho, hitched her political wagon to Paul in her recent effort to become a GOP precinct committeeman. In a major upset, Budden defeated Twin Falls Republican Rep. Steve Hartgen in the May 15 primary race for Twin Falls 19th precinct committeeman. Hartgen, who is also running for a third term to the Idaho House, lost the precinct committee race to Budden by one vote.

"It was a really big deal," said Budden. "It's all about my future."

The Steele family is banking its future on Romney. Though their family-owned business is called "GOP Stuff 2012," the only stuff they sell promotes Romney's campaign. Literally wearing their politics on their sleeves, each wore a different variation of a Romney T-shirt. Their $25 tie-dyed T-shirts were hot sellers with the Twin Falls crowd.

"We chose Romney early on," said Kelly Steele, mother of 15-year-old Keegan and 12-year-old Collin. "Once we made that decision, we started printing up shirts and buttons."

Steele, who also home-schools her sons, said her family owns other businesses, including real estate and what she described as one of the world's largest indoor trampoline parks in Park City, Utah. Additionally, her husband is a frequent infomercial host on late-night television. The family of four has been on the road since January, traveling through Texas, Arizona, Washington and now Idaho.

"Mitt Romney's campaign is the foundation for our business, literally," she said. "When we started, we were certain that he had the best chance to beat Obama."

The former Massachusetts governor will have plenty of Gem State money to fuel his campaign. As of April 30, Idaho individual donations to the Romney campaign outpaced Obama 4-1. Romney had raised more money in Idaho than in 25 other states.

But that's just the beginning of what should be a significant Gem State bankroll. Idaho Republican delegates were told that the state GOP had just signed an agreement with the Romney campaign to assist in fundraising, one of only four states in the nation to do so.

"Rest assured, the Idaho Republican Party will play a key role in working with and for the Romney campaign," said Norm Semanko, outgoing chairman of the state GOP.

Damond Watkins, vice president of corporate relations for Melaleuca, knows a thing or two about fundraising for Romney. His boss, billionaire Frank VanderSloot, put Watkins on administrative leave to help the campaign.

"Normally, individual campaign donations are capped at $2,500," said Watkins. "But when Mitt Romney became the presumptive GOP nominee, his campaign became a father, of sorts, to multiple accounts. Now, donations can be as high as $75,000 a person. Of all the states across the nation, Gov. Romney has a very, very close relationship with Idaho."

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