Friendly Combat

Timid Race for Congress could hurt lesser-known Grant


Debates may be going out of style for some politicians, but not for the two leading candidates running for Congress in Idaho's First Congressional District. Instead of hiding from one another, Republican Bill Sali and Democrat Larry Grant seem almost eager to appear with one another at various opportunities.

Last weekend the pair huddled together at KIDO 580 AM, while host Doug McConaughey refereed them through a two-hour exchange that was more educational than it was exciting.

Political experts say this sort of scholarly brickbatting is only going to help Sali. In a state that regularly votes for Republicans, no matter how conservative. Sali might only need to let Republican voters know he's available.

But this year many voters seem undecided, if recent polls are any indication. Both Grant and Sali are stepping gingerly into that void.

"I have to let people know who I am, and Bill has to let people know he's reasonable," Grant said. Sali might disagree with that characterization, but he nonetheless believes strongly in the debate concept.

"I think it's great for us to go mano y mano," Sali said.

In their debates, the pair politely kibitz over their policy differences, but make almost no ad hominem attacks. They don't need to. Neither candidate is even remotely like the other.

On immigration, Sali is bullish on the concept of a fence across the southern U.S. border with Mexico, and said illegal immigrants often include three problem groups: "drug cartel operatives, gang members and terrorists."

"I would vote to put troops on the border," Sali said.

Grant endorses the idea of work permits for migrants who come to the United States looking for work. Doing so, he said, would free up border officials to focus on those trying to sneak into the country.

"At least we'd know who they are," Grant said.

On education, Sali has said he would like to see the federal Department of Education abolished.

"I don't think the federal government can add anything to the mix that we can't do right here in Idaho," Sali said.

Grant has said little on the issue in his campaign material.

"If all we have are friendly exchanges, that has to help Sali," said retired Boise State political science professor Jim Weatherby. The ugly six-way Republican primary in June did a lot of damage to Sali's reputation, Weatherby said. But in the weeks since, he has been performing a quiet makeover.

Greg Smith, a Republican pollster whose work has shown Sali's support to be dropping behind Grant, nonetheless said that if he had to predict the election, he would pick Sali, for one reason.

"He has an 'R' next to his name," Smith said. "It would be Sali in a close race."

Former BW publisher Andy Hedden-Nicely is also running for the United Party .