The main room of the River Run Lodge was packed Friday evening as Blaine County Republicans gathered to hear Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele speak. However, a table with a single chair at the front of the room remained empty.
This place, called the Missing Man table, had been set for Bowe Bergdahl, the 23-year-old Hailey soldier captured by the Taliban in July 2009. It is believed that Bergdahl is still being held in Afghanistan.
Steele began his speech by honoring the Bergdahl family, who live near Hailey.
"We appreciate the sacrifice of a mother and father who watch their son go to war," Steele said. "We are with Bowe, wherever he is."
Steele continued to emphasize the importance of the sacrifice made by U.S. soldiers, while urging those present to be willing to fight a political battle. Concerned about recent legislative developments such as the passing of the health care bill, as well as the administration's struggle to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Steele argued that the Democrat-led government has been systematically stripping away the freedoms of its citizens.
"We, like Bowe, should be concerned and should be prepared to fight," Steele said. "America can't afford to have its principles, its freedoms, compromised."
Steele gave the nod to Idaho District 25 Senate candidate Jim Donoval and District 25 House candidate Alex Sutter, both of whom were in attendance.
"These times require leaders to rise," he said, adding that Sutter and Donoval have been leaders of their families and are now ready to become leaders of the Republican Party.
And if they aren't? "If they screw up, you'll fire them," Steele said, as he called on the voters present to "fire" Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic members of Congress.
The end of Steele's speech was greeted with a standing ovation from the more than 200 attendees. Steele commented on the turnout, saying, "I didn't know there were this many Republicans in this county!"
Sutter's remarks seemed partly inspired by the crowd as well. Referring to the usual color of Blaine County on electoral maps, Sutter said, "Too many people believe this is a blue district—it's not."
He called on voters to turn the county Republican red this election season. Donoval agreed, saying, "This district is winnable."
District 25 includes Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties.
Comedian Eric Golub also spoke, promoting his new book and urging the party to "stop being so polite" when it comes to dealing with Democrats. "We are right, they are wrong," he said. "We're going to win, they're going to lose."
Golub's ending joke perhaps best summed up the mood of those in attendance. "When people ask me, 'Aren't you glad to have a black leader of the Free World?' I say, 'Yes, we love Michael Steele.'"
The Blaine County Republican Party and the Idaho Republican Party organized the fundraiser. Event Co-Chair Debbie O'Neill said this was the first large-scale Republican fundraiser held in Blaine County.
Tickets for a VIP reception at the Ketchum-area lodge cost $500. Tickets for the larger "social summit" reception cost $25.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org