This is going to be an interesting year in Idaho politics. Bill Sali's victory in last week's first congressional district Republican primary eliminated a lot of unknowns when looking at the road to November, but still opened up its own can of worms that this early bird intends to get ahold of.*
First of all, thanks to Bill "That idiot is just an absolute idiot. He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body. And you can put that in the paper." Sali, this race has finally been getting a little bit of national coverage. I've said before that this isn't your run-of-the-mill, cannon fodder in flyover country race, but apparently my f-words don't (presently) garner the attention that a true wingnut can.
While I am sure that the Sali's participation in this race is going to be pretty interesting, there's more to it than just sitting back and watching his campaign trip over Sali's embarassing and extremist record. The contender on the Democratic side, Larry Grant, knows that getting elected with a D after your name is always a challenge in Idaho. This is a red, red state, and even with Grant's moderate politics, there is a lot of liberal-is-an-insult baggage that he's going to have to deal with if he's going to appeal to moderate Idaho Republican voters. To put it simply, people just aren't used to the idea of voting for a Democrat in Idaho.
This is not to say that Grant has nothing to offer the liberal and moderate Democrats in this state. The most obvious thing he brings to the table is not being Bill Sali, and even if the spectre of US House Representative Bill Sali is enough to scare a lot of people to the polls, "anybody but" is hardly enough to campaign on. A quick look at where he stands on issues shows that he calls himself a Democrat for a reason. This becomes interesting considering that the reasons no one would hesitate to call him a Democrat aren't exactly deal-breakers for conservative voters. Indeed, the current Republican regime in power at both the state and federal levels have sold huge swaths of their constituencies short, most notably the independent-minded, Western small-l libertarians who are the backbone of Western conservatism. The government has both grown bigger and more inept under Republican rule, and each of Grant's constituencies could handle one of those problems, but not both. What Grant offers voters is the promise of both competence and fiscal responsibility.
I've been fortunate enough to sit down with Grant twice in the past few months, and he has been willing to talk about what taxpayers need to start and need to stop paying for, and how to make sure that these dollars are well-spent. Being the liberal that I am, I would probably be unhappy with a Congress entirely full of Larry Grants. Other congressmembers who serve more liberal constituencies have the opportunity to envision broad social programs with a less tight-fisted view of how to govern, and I think that kind of thinking has an important place in governing. On the other hand, the Bush administration has dug itself and all of us into a huge hole that it's going to take a lot of hard decision-making to get out of. Grant, with his equal loyalties to his progressive voters and his libertarians, has the right kind of pressure to make these hard decisions in such a way that the national debt is reduced without letting the things we depend on our government for fall apart. (Do I even need to say that this is not something we can depend on Sali for?)
We need a principled moderate, not an arbitrary compromise. Other notable Democratic candidates - think Hillary Clinton - have personal politics that run to the left of their political decisions, and the result can be less than inspiring. It's true that a representative can't ethically put their own politics above those of their constituents, and I don't want to demean sacrifices that can go along with leadership. When a principled moderate like Grant has to make a decision that he knows will not please everyone, we can at least be sure that it's a decision that he believes in. That kind of personal investment in decision-making adds a kind of accountability that an impending election cycle can't. And given the difficult road ahead, I wouldn't want those governing to think they had decisions that they can throw away to their less important constituents.
*For some reason, I think mixed metaphors are funny.