Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco said Wednesday morning that his Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, is drifting through campaign season resting on his laurels.
"I think there's a huge contrast between us, and I think it's my job to point out the contrast," LaRocco said.
LaRocco was in the Wood River Valley this week to raise money and spread word on his platform. He said his campaign is picking up steam. Recent polling indicates he is trailing Risch by about 10 points, he said.
LaRocco worked from 1975 through 1980 as north Idaho field coordinator for the late U.S. Sen. Frank Church. He won bids for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 and 1992, but lost in 1994 in a race against the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth. It was a year Democrats lost a large number of seats in a nationwide Republican sweep, and it was the last time an Idaho Democrat held a seat in Congress.
"This is the most important election in my life, not just for me but for the country," LaRocco said. "This is a change year. I represent change. Risch represents the status quo."
The open seat for which LaRocco and Risch are campaigning is that held by Sen. Larry Craig, also a Republican. In addition to the sitting lieutenant governor, Larocco, 61, is facing Libertarian Kent Marmon and independents Rex Rammell and Marvin Richardson, who has formally changed his name to "Pro-Life."
"We're canvassing. We're going door to door. We're getting votes," LaRocco said. "If he wants to sleep-walk through this campaign, that's his choice."
In an interview a week earlier, Risch characterized this year's race for the Senate as similar to 2006, when he and LaRocco faced off for the lieutenant governor's office. Larocco took issue with that assertion.
"He's not the sitting governor," LaRocco said of his opponent's time finishing out former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's term. "He can't hide behind his official duties. And last time I got in the race late. This time I've dedicated almost 18 months to the campaign. This time he has to campaign."
LaRocco said the most important issues in the campaign are the need for reform in Congress and new approaches to health care.
"I don't care if it's Barack Obama or John McCain (in the Oval Office). The Congress has not been working properly," he said. "It's been a rubber-stamp machine. I want the place to work."
While it was not a substantial part of the interview, health care was the other issue LaRocco said is most important to his campaign.
"There are people out there who are a broken leg away from bankruptcy," he said. "There's a lot of hurting out there, and there are a lot of people out there rolling the dice. I have a health care plan. Jim Risch doesn't."
LaRocco touted his environmental resume—his work with Sen. Church during creation of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area and his work on the Gospel Hump Wilderness Area. He was the architect of legislation that created the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
"I've been working on public lands issues since 1975," he said, adding that the Birds of Prey legislation was the last significant piece of conservation legislation to pass from Idaho.
"It just shows the lack of leadership that we've had since then," he said.
In a brief telephone interview Thursday afternoon, Risch responded to several of LaRocco's assertions. He said he is working very hard. He said he agrees Congress needs fixing, but qualified that he believes it needs infused with a "get-it-done" attitude. And he said he has solid ideas on health care.
"We're at it every day, all day," he said of his campaign work. "I guess I could say the same thing about him. I never see him."