Idaho Senate: Democratic Prospects Still Slim

August 27, 2007 · 6:39 PM EDT

Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s status for 2008 has been a question mark, even before Roll Call broke the recent news of his June arrest. Craig had yet to give the NRSC an official, or even unofficial, heads up about whether he would seek a fourth term. And he showed a less than intimidating $549,000 in campaign cash through the end of June. Now, for a senator previously undecided about running again, the recent developments increase the possibility of an open seat in Idaho.

Former Democratic Cong. Larry LaRocco is already in the race and running. He had only $44,000 on hand through June 30. It’s unclear whether other, potentially more formidable Democrats will consider the race now. Larry Grant, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 1st District last year, has committed to running for Congress again next year, though an open seat could get his attention.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is likely to run in an open seat. When Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) was appointed to President Bush’s cabinet, Risch served as governor, but did not seek a full term in 2006, allowing Cong. Butch Otter (R) to run and win. Five-term Cong. Mike Simpson (R) represents half the state and may get some mention as well.

Rancher Rex Rammell (R) is also likely to run, and there is no love lost between him and Risch. As governor, Risch issued an executive order to kill a herd of Rammell’s domestic elk when they escaped from his ranch.

Even though it’s an open seat, Democrats still face a very difficult bid in Idaho. George W. Bush won the state with 67% in 2000 and 68% in 2004, behind only Wyoming and Utah. Idaho hasn’t gone Democratic for President since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 when Barry Goldwater (R) won only a handful of states. The last Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race was legendary Sen. Frank Church (D) in 1974. But he lost reelection six years later.

In a potential preview of next November, Risch and LaRocco squared off statewide less than a year ago in the 2006 race for lieutenant governor, with Risch winning convincingly 58%-40%.

Since Craig hasn’t made an official announcement yet about what he will do next year, there is still time for things to shake out. Nationwide, Democrats are prepared for another good year in Senate elections, but an open seat in Idaho starts as Safe Republican.