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Republicans Ready to Move On, Sort Of

Risch joins race for Senate, while Craig stays put

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Sen. Larry Craig might not be going anywhere, but the rest of the state's Republican Party is moving on.

Lt. Gov. Jim Risch announced this morning that he is officially running for Craig's seat in next year's election.

"The bottom line is, I'm in," Risch said as he announced his candidacy in Capitol Park Tuesday morning.

Flanked by a wall of state Republican leaders and his family, Risch promised a tenure with a focus on the needs of constituents, rather than a focus on policy—if he's elected, that is.

Risch's candidacy came as no real surprise. After his short time in office as Idaho's governor, following Dirk Kempthorne's appointment as secretary of the Interior, Risch made it clear that he would most likely run if Craig decided to retire.

In the the wake of the Craig sex scandal, Risch emerged as the leading candidate to fill Craig's seat if he resigned.

Questions about Craig dominated Tuesday's event, and Risch avoided making any definitive statements regarding the embattled senator.

"There's nothing I can say today that can resolve that issue," he said, adding that Craig's decision to step down or remain in the Senate is out of Risch's control.

Risch said it was clearly a difficult time personally for Craig, but said, "It's really time for Idaho to move forward and for Idahoans to move forward, and I'm ready to do that."

The Republican Party showed its support in force with the likes of Kirk Sullivan, Idaho Republican State Central Committee chair, Sen. Mike Crapo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter standing in ranks behind Risch as he made his announcement.

Former Gov. Phil Batt and Crapo were announced as co-chairs for Risch's campaign, and attorney Dennis Johnson will head up the Ada County effort.

One face noticeably missing was that of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who is rumored to be considering a run for the office himself.

Risch's announcement sets up the possibility of a repeat of last year's race for lieutenant governor, which pitted him against longtime political rival, DemocratLarry LaRocco, who announced his own candidacy earlier this year.

Just an hour after Risch made his announcement LaRocco, who has been on the trail for months, gave an update of his own race. The former Congressman says he's raised $200,000 for the race, and that the list of odd jobs he's taken around the state are just the sort of education he needs to be ready to represent Idaho.

"I don't need to conduct focus groups to find out what's on the minds of Idahoans," LaRocco said. "I have learned about the struggles to raise families in today's economy. I have learned of the heartache of declaring personal bankruptcy due to lack of health insurance. I have talked with small business owners about the pressures of regulation and exploding costs of energy."

LaRocco did start late last time he ran against Risch, in 2006. That time around, he barely hit 40 percent of the vote, leaving the race to Risch.

While Risch is the apparent frontrunner in this race, he said he can't depend on that momentum carrying him through.

"These things can change on a heartbeat," he said.

Case in point is Craig's sudden change of mind about resigning from the Senate, despite being told he could not withdraw his guilty plea for disorderly conduct in Minnesota. A harshly-worded ruling from a Minnesota district court judge ended that attempt.

Craig's decision to stay on the job has been hard on Idaho's majority Republicans, some of whom have begun to question Craig's decision. That number includes Otter, who recently told Newsweek that it would have been better for Idaho if Craig had resigned. Risch, however, declined to go that far.

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