Party labels don’t always mean much

Idaho State Journal Editorial

Idaho is a funny old place when it comes to politics.
Of all the states, Idaho has the largest Republican majority in its legislature, as well as holding the executive branch. Yet the GOP has had a tough time in consolidating votes to provide any notable legislation the last few years. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has had a devil of a task riding herd on his fellow Republicans.
Some of the old pols who walked the Capitol halls of yore have privately mused that one of the reasons the Republicans are so fractured in their caucus is because it’s split between true Republicans and a healthy population of Democrats.
Knowing full well they couldn’t be elected in their conservative districts as Democrats, some have taken up the moniker, if not the mantra, of Republicans.
Perhaps this explains the curious case of Walt Minnick. Only in reverse.
Minnick, running as a Democrat, beat Republican Rep. Bill Sali two years ago. The populous and predominantly Democrat-leaning Ada County was sufficient to carry the day, even though Sali actually won 11 of the 19 counties.
Minnick’s record since he took office in January 2009 does not always appear to reflect the political disposition of a Democrat. He has voted against health insurance reform, against the cap-and-trade program and  opposed other Democrat-sponsored legislation.
According to the Washington Post’s political database, Minnick has voted less with his party than any other representative of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives.
In recent weeks, Minnick has been featured in a new political ad running on the Internet that extols his voting against legislation such as the health care reform.
Here’s the kicker — the ad is sponsored by the Republican National Committee. The spot is an excerpt from Minnick’s first campaign ad of the election season as he gears up to take on Republican challenger Raul Labrador.
“I’ve had to say no far more than I’ve said yes,” Minnick says in the ad.
Minnick, like many Democrats with memories of the mid-term elections of 1994, is doing all he can to distance himself from President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
While it’s probably a politically canny move for Minnick in conservative Idaho, the RNC is doing its best to make political hay out of it.
For their part, Minnick’s handlers are spinning the matter as positively as possible.
“Walt’s done a great job as a congressman of representing all Idahoans, regardless of political party,” said John Foster, Minnick’s campaign spokesman. “While it is unfortunate that this group decided to use Walt’s words for a partisan attack, it also serves to highlight the fact that Walt is the most independent member of Congress.”
Minnick certainly has a distinct advantage in name recognition and campaign funding over Labrador. Still, it will be interesting to see how the race develops.
In a state where Republicans have a historic edge in national contests, the RNC will be tempted to commit a fair amount of firepower to unseat Minnick, even if he’s the closest thing to a Republican the Democrats have to offer.