Friday, November 7, 2008

Minnick, Simpson head for Congress

Bill Sali out after one term


BOISE, Idaho— Democrat Walt Minnick ousted Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Sali in the 1st Congressional District, scoring Idaho's biggest political upset in more than a decade and adding an unexpected member to the House Democratic majority.

Minnick won with just more than 50 percent, or about 3,700 votes, becoming the first Democrat from Idaho to capture a congressional seat since Larry LaRocco in 1992. With Minnick, Democrats in the U.S. House added at least 18 seats; going into Tuesday's election, the party controlled the House 235-199 with one vacancy.

Joining Minnick on his trip to Washington will be U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who easily defeated a Democratic opponent.

Minnick, a 66-year-old former executive with wood-products company Trus Joist International, emphasized his Republican roots as a 1970s Nixon White House staffer and as a gun-toting hunter.

He also met with dozens of business groups to persuade them that Sali's allegiance to a small minority of conservatives in Congress and votes that often clashed with Simpson, hurt efforts to reach pragmatic solutions.

"It's a great morning," Minnick told a crowd of reporters, supporters and Democratic Party operatives. "I would like to thank the thousands of Idahoans, Republicans and independents, who chose to look at this campaign from the standpoint of who could be more effective for Idaho."

Minnick said he hadn't spoken with Sali on Wednesday, but that Simpson had already offered assistance in his impending move to Washington, D.C.

"He and are going to get together, hopefully in the next few days, and talk about how we can forge a bipartisan team that will allow us to work with Republicans, work with Democrats, work with the new Democratic administration, and come up with common sense solutions to problems that will be in the best interest of the country and helpful to Idaho," Minnick said.

The GOP has controlled the conservative bastion in the state's largely rural west and north for 37 of the last 41 years. In favoring Minnick, voters bucked a long tradition of sending conservative Republican iconoclasts to Washington, D.C., including Steve Symms, the late Helen Chenoweth and current Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

Sali, a 54-year-old Kuna lawyer who touted his own pro-gun, anti-tax message, lost after a single term, in part because his brusque style alienated members of his own party's establishment. In June, he defied Otter and backed Norm Semanko over then-state GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan to lead the party. Semanko won.

He drew attention with struggles to file his Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports on time. And in 2007, after just a few months in office, Sali had to apologize for suggesting America's founders never intended for Muslims like U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to serve in Congress.

Minnick outraised Sali, collecting about $2 million from supporters and hundreds of thousands of his own money, to the GOP incumbent's $1 million.

Simpson, the 57-year-old former dentist from eastern Idaho, defeated Democrat and political newcomer Debbie Holmes with 71.2 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from 96 percent of precincts in the district.

Holmes, a Boise real estate agent with no previous political experience, went up against Simpson after nabbing nearly 70 percent of the Democratic vote in the May primary race.

In Congress, Simpson sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Esquire magazine named him one of the "10 Best Members of Congress" last month for his ability to find common ground on policy issues.

Simpson expressed dismay with Republican John McCain's failed bid for the presidency, but also urged support for Obama.

"I promise to do all I can to support him, when I agree with him, and do all I can to change his mind when I don't," said Simpson, who listed the economy and energy independence among his top priorities.

Simpson also said he'll continue working to pass a wilderness bill, reorganize the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and improve the stability of Social Security.

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