Sabatos Crystal Ball

Idaho Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Idaho (01)

Outlook: Leans Republican


November 19, 2008 Update:

Republican incumbent Bill Sali lost the district to Democratic candidate Walt Minnick by a margin of just over 4,000 votes.

September 19, 2008 Update:

For a Democrat to win in Idaho, he’ll have to steal a lot of Republican votes. So far, that has been exactly the plan of Democratic challenger Walt Minnick. Minnick thus far has a list of about 60 Republican supporters, which is using to show his bipartisan appeal. Bill Sali, the incumbent Republican, has also been conned into the game, naming a Democrat as one of his campaign’s co-chairs. Ultimately, Sali needs to focus on winning back Republicans in a district with few Democrats to appeal to. Neither Kerry nor Gore won even a third of the vote in 2004 and 2000 respectively, a watermark which Minnick is on pace to exceed. Whether he can reach the all-important 50 percent mark is a very different question. A Democratic win in this district would be grand larceny, indeed.

July 30, 2008 Update:

Despite Idaho’s ruby-red leanings, Republican Bill Sali isn’t making his first reelection easy for himself. In our last update, Sali’s paltry fundraising elicited concern from party regulars. Since then, he’s been added to the GOP’s Regain Our Majority Program (ROMP) and enjoyed an NRCC fundraiser in Washington, but he was still outraised by Democratic challenger Walt Minnick $250K to $361K in the second quarter. Neither is Sali keeping his name out of the headlines. Sali was one of only a handful of Republicans to vote against delaying Medicaid pay cuts, and in June, the incumbent raised eyebrows with his claim that there were only “around 130 people that are very good folks” in Congress. In the end, Sali will likely win reelection due to district demographics, but the representative’s history of gaffes and foibles only tempts fate—and perhaps a primary challenge—in the years to come.

May 28, 2008 Update:

Republican Rep. Bill Sali will face Democrat Walt Minnick this November after Sali defeated his primary challenger, Matt Salibsury, 60-40 on May 27th. Even though Idaho’s 1st district voted 69 percent for Bush in 2004, Sali still has some hurdles to clear. A poll taken in the days leading up to the primary showed that among Republicans, his own base, 46 percent saw him unfavorably and only 32 percent favorably. In addition, his last election was secured with only a five percent margin, despite the district’s overwhelming Republican tilt. He will also have to contend with a 2 to 1 fundraising disadvantage, very much a rarity for an incumbent, as Sali’s campaign held a balance of only $160,000 at the beginning of May, compared to Minnick’s $320,000.


Background

Representative Bill Sali has adjusted surprisingly well to life in Congress. In his 2006 open-seat election, Idaho Republicans feared the then divisive and controversy-prone Sali was a liability even in one of the country’s most conservative district. Their anxiety was temporarily lessened when Sali prevailed over technology executive Larry Grant. Since then, Sali has earned the respect of his congressional peers and was elected president of freshman house class.

Still, Sali has issues to resolve at home. A July 2007 poll reported Sali at a 29/46 approval rating–dismal for any incumbent congressman. He also has drawn criticism for commenting that Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison was not what was ”envisioned by the founding fathers.” Larry Grant, the 2006 candidate, is back for a rematch and is joined by 1996 Senate candidate Walt Minnick in the Democratic primary. Sali also faces primary opposition from Iraq war veteran Matt Salisbury, but neither the primary nor general election should pose difficulty so long as Sali avoids the gaffes that jeopardized his last election.

Candidates

Walt Minnick – Democrat – businessman, 1996 US Senate candidate
Website

Bill Sali (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website