Dems Take Stock

Stallings: I'll stay or go if asked


After a bruising loss in any election, it is customary for a statewide party to engage in finger-pointing, backbiting and possibly staff house-cleaning.

Not so for the Idaho Democratic Party. Despite losing every statewide race, the minority party in Idaho appears convinced that the right steps were taken, just not enough of them, perhaps not at the right time, or perhaps not in the right places.

"I guess our only mistake was overreaching," said Richard Stallings, the chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party. "We're in a building mode."

That was echoed across the party in recent days, as Democrats said they were proud of an unprecedented coordinated campaign that nonetheless was not enough to get candidates like Jerry Brady or Larry Grant over a significant Republican hump in Idaho. Although they had district and county-level victories in and around cities like Boise and even Idaho Falls, the party still wasn't ready, some say, to make it all the way to the governor's office and to Congress.

But the opportunities were too tempting. Idaho had two rare open seats: the governor's and a Congressional seat.

"You have to go for it," Stallings said. With Brady ready and willing--and raising money--to make a second run at the governor's office, and with Grant in the same position for the Congressional seat, the party had to jump in.

And they did. And they lost at every turn. Republicans won every Constitutionally-designated office in the state, something they haven't done for years.

"We just didn't get the crossover votes that we needed," said Grant after trying and failing to beat Republican Bill Sali for the First Congressional District seat.

Most point to money as well: Republicans out-raised Democrats across the board, and had out-of-state groups like the Club For Growth and the Republican Governor's Association ready to pour millions into the state--Brady called it "a shotgun of negativity"--that was hard to combat.

"We really misjudged the consequences of the last 10 days," said Brady, who felt, like other statewide candidates, that they were making inroads where they hadn't in years past. But in the end it wasn't enough. "There was a drumbeat of Republicans telling people to come back to the party," Brady said.

Larry LaRocco, who put up a spirited campaign against current Gov. Jim Risch for lieutenant governor, said Democrats were disappointed not because they were blind to the realities of life in red-state Idaho, but because "there was so much energy that no one had seen before."

High points, aside from legislative seats gained, included efforts like an election-day phone bank operation that party director Maria Weeg said included several hundred people making get-out-the-vote calls.

Although party leadership decisions won't be made until next spring, Stallings said he'll do what party stalwarts ask.

"When the party doesn't do as well, quite honestly, it may be time to step aside," he said. "I'll stay on if they want me to."