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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 23 - 29, 2002


Meet your neighbor: 
Alan Blinken

Newcomer challenges Craig 
for Senate seat

"I love it. You get up, look at the mountains. You go outside and look at the Wood (River), see if anything’s moving. It just feels good. The people are all nice."

ALAN BLINKEN, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate

Express Staff Writer

Far away from the bubbling streams and quiet mountains he moved to Idaho in 1996 to explore, Alan Blinken appeared completely in his element working the throngs at last Friday’s Boise State University football game in Boise.

The 64-year-old Blaine County resident and U.S. Senate candidate sauntered through the tailgating festivities, shaking hands and talking politics with everyone willing. A group of campaign volunteers paraded through the crowd with vivid yellow "I’m Thinkin’ Blinken" signs. Others distributed orange and blue BSU team rosters printed by campaign organizers with a photo of Blinken, the marksman, shouldering a rifle.

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Blinken talks politics with people at a tailgate party at last Friday’s Boise State University football game. Express photo by Greg Stahl

"You’ve already got my vote," more than one orange-clad BSU fan blurted. Others merely sneered their apparent distaste for the millionaire’s candidacy.

But by the end of the day, Blinken graciously greeted hundreds of Idahoans, including a group of tailgating United Dairymen of Idaho, presumably devoted Republicans.

For the former investment banker and Clinton-era ambassador to Belgium, Friday’s tailgating affair was the end of a relatively short campaign day. Since Jan. 2, 16-hour days and seven-day weeks have been the norm.

"Of course I have to out-hustle my opponent," he said. "He’s an incumbent. Something like 90 percent of incumbents are re-elected."


An uphill battle

Blinken is challenging Idaho’s senior senator, Republican Larry Craig, who has climbed through the ranks in Washington for 22 years. Including three terms in the Idaho Senate, five terms in the U.S. House and two terms in the U.S. Senate, Craig has been re-elected by the people of Idaho 10 times.

Craig’s supporters say his experience and track record are among his most important qualifications. But Blinken charged that Craig has done little for his home state, even as Republican Policy Chairman.

"I think Craig does the worst job for this state of any of them," Blinken said. "His interest is in the (Republican) Party. He’s been a great senator for his party, but I don’t see his interests as being on the part of the state."

In addition to campaigning against a popular, long-time incumbent, Blinken has a significant uphill battle on his hands, and it has everything to do with his East Coast resume.

As a Sun Valley resident, the road to political victory in Idaho is treacherous. Blinken’s coup de grace is his long-time home, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and his Clinton administration appointment as ambassador to Belgium.

"Oh, they’re going to try to stick me with it, especially these last two weeks," he said.

Blinken has not turned his back on his past. In announcing his candidacy on March 11, he attempted to pre-empt criticism, saying Republicans would call him a New Yorker, a liberal, a Clinton appointee and a rich investment banker, in that order.

"I’m proud of all of it," he said. "My father came to this country from Russia in 1904, and we have lived the American dream."

The self-proclaimed gun nut said he moved to the Wood River Valley to fish, hunt and retire, "but a businessman never stops thinking about business."


‘Good paying jobs’

From the earliest days of his campaign, Blinken touted his ability to find and bring outside investments to help spur the economy and "get good paying jobs for Idaho."

"The biggest export of this state is not potatoes," he told a group at the Nampa Senior Center Friday morning. "It’s our children and our grandchildren."

He continues to maintain that helping to boost Idaho’s economy is the primary reason he threw his hat in the ring.

"As a businessman, it became clear to me that the future success of Idaho depends on new investment and good paying jobs," he said in his March candidacy speech. "From good jobs comes the ability to provide health care. Good jobs mean our state doesn’t have to make the drastic cuts in education that we have seen in the last few months, so that we can upgrade our school facilities and pay our teachers fairly."

Blinken said competition among the 50 states for outside investments is fierce and requires leadership and persistence. He said he helped create 85,000 American jobs by expanding trade and business with Belgium. He said that experience makes him the right person for the job in Idaho.

"This isn’t a career thing for me. I’ve had my careers," he said. "If I can’t get the job done, I shouldn’t be there."

In interviews and in television spots, Blinken said he will not serve more than two terms, which he feels would be enough time to give his ideas a fair shot.

Also, since announcing his candidacy, Blinken’s platform has expanded from its original focus on jobs and economic growth to include an innovative prescription drug plan, a strategy to reduce backlogs at veteran’s hospitals and proposals to improve education.

He announced his commitments to veteran reforms last week.

"Our veterans signed a contract with our government. They fulfilled their end of the agreement, and we, as a nation, are honor-bound to live up to our end," he said. "I recognize that this situation is very complex, but I firmly believe that with the innovative help of private healthcare providers and a focused U.S. senator, we can find a way to immediately get our Veterans the care they deserve until a long-term solution is found."

Members of the Nampa Senior Center appeared impressed with the health care and veterans’ plans.

"If he can do half of what he said he can do, that would be grand," said a devoted Republican woman, adding that Blinken still had not earned her vote.


A Democrat’s roots

Blinken said overcoming the Clinton administration stereotype in a state where President Bill Clinton was, for the most part, detested is a formidable obstacle.

His standard line is, "Who wouldn’t be proud to be named an ambassador of the United States?" while pointing out that he "didn’t agree with a lot of what Bill Clinton did."

But he said he believes in Democratic economic principles. He said he has been a Democrat from his earliest cognizant days.

"My parents were Democrats. I guess it started with that," he said.

But working in the mostly Republican business world is what he said cemented his political affiliation.

"Strangely enough to me, a lot of the Democratic stuff makes more sense economically than the Republican stuff," he said.

He said the choice between trickle-down economics and more middle-class-focused economic plans is obvious.

"To me it’s always been self-evident. You give the money to someone who’s going to spend it," he said. "In the last two to three decades, Democrats have certainly been more fiscally responsible, but we’ve let Republicans label us."

Small and medium size companies are the source of real economic growth, he said, and social services, like education, health care, Medicaid and Medicare are important for those successes.

Finally, he said he is proud to be a Democrat in Idaho, because it is an opportunity to help correct the one-party nature of the state’s politics.

"I think people are realizing what a closed majority can do," he said.


The skier and the fisherman

Blinken said his wife, Melinda Blinken, is a competent skier. As for himself, he said he skis Bald Mountain’s legendary slopes "with fear."

Melinda Blinken, 63, said her role in the campaign has been that of partner.

Melinda Blinken, Alan Blinken’s wife, visits with children at a Canyon County Head Start program. "We’re a team," Melinda Blinken said of her role in the U.S. Senate bid. Express photo by Greg Stahl

"We’ve been together every single hour of every single day," she said.

Melinda Blinken coined the phrase "I’m Thinkin’ Blinken," and has participated completely in campaign functions, answering questions and shaking hands.

As for the U.S. Senate candidate, it appears he would rather spend a day fishing or hunting than at just about any other pastime. He said the biggest fish he ever caught was an 18- to 20-inch rainbow trout in the Big Lost River.

"I really love the Big Lost," he said, qualifying that he enjoys several holes on the Big Wood near Adam’s Gulch. He also said he enjoys Idaho’s "post-Ph.D." river, Silver Creek.

In fact, it was fishing that drew him to Idaho for a vacation in 1980, when he fished the Big Wood and Silver Creek. "We fell in love with it," he said.

"Those were the days you could go to the Pioneer and get in and not sit at the bar for three hours," he said.

In 1996, the Blinkens finished building their home north of Ketchum and decided to start waiting for a table at the Pioneer’s bar full time.

"I love it," Allen Blinken said. "You get up, look at the mountains. You go outside and look at the Wood, see if anything’s moving. It just feels good. The people are all nice."



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