While most politicians will do almost anything to attract media coverage, Sen. Mike Crapo is going in the opposite direction in the early stages of his re-election campaign.
He sent his re-election notice through a press release, and during his campaign fundraising kickoff last week, the media was asked not to attend. I was looking forward to seeing Crapo in campaign mode, which I’ve rarely seen in the 30 years of knowing him. I was hoping to see a more passionate side – where he could define his campaign, outline his accomplishments and get fellow Republicans fired up about next year’s election.
At the moment, there’s no rush for campaign passion in a race that’s a year away and Republicans are far from being united around a GOP presidential candidate. It’s doubtful that any Republican will challenge Crapo. Former Democratic Congressman Richard Stallings, who is recruiting prospective opponents, says he hasn’t found any takers yet on the Democratic side.
Crapo is not playing it safe in his re-election bid, and his efforts are enough to scare away opposition. His campaign team is led by three “senior” advisers from Riverwood Strategies of Las Vegas and four communications advisers – including Lou Esposito of Boise, a right-to-life advocate.
The senator, known for his calm and thoughtful manner, would be tough to beat even without his army of strategists. In a statement announcing his team, Crapo said, “I look forward to working with them as we share my conservative record of leading efforts to repeal Obamacare, reduce our national debt, reform our antiquated tax code and entitlement programs, maintain a strong national defense and keep government out of our lives so our families have the ability to succeed.”
That’s the kind of message that sells well in Idaho, and especially in the rural areas, where Republicans win by wide margins. Democrats cannot match Crapo’s top ratings with the National Rifle Association and National Right to Life Committee. The 64-year-old Crapo has a lot of firepower in this campaign, but should be getting his money’s worth in a world in which winning is everything.
But, according to Stallings, Democrats have no shortage of potential talking points to bring up in next year’s campaign. Whoever runs will argue that Crapo has a weak record and has embraced the Washington lifestyle. Crapo’s 2012 drunken-driving arrest, the biggest embarrassment of his personal life (he’s a devout Mormon) and political career, could come up during next year’s campaign.
“He has defined himself as someone who has been bought and paid for by Washington, and he has adopted the Washington lifestyle – a person who has turned his back to all he held dear before he went to Washington,” Stallings said. “I think he made some choices and one of them was to turn to alcohol as a lot of Washington politicians do, and he got caught.”
In terms of accomplishments, Democrats will argue that Crapo’s cupboard is bare.
“He’s not fighting for anything. He comes up with these ridiculous press releases about how he’s going to balance the budget in 10 years by smoke and mirrors, and no one believes that. Then he gets on some of these right-wing wack-job projects, such as trying to sell our public lands.” Stallings said. “I accomplished more during four terms in the House than he has done in all his time in Washington. I would be ashamed to run on his record.”
But Crapo has accomplished enough to be the clear favorite to win. The biggest challenge for Democrats is finding a candidate willing to go on what appears to be a political suicide mission. Stallings admits any Democrat would face an “almost impossible” task of beating a sitting Republican senator. Stallings, who has had plenty of practice running spirited campaigns, might be the best qualified candidate at the moment. But he says he’s not interested this time.
“Crapo would have another advantage over me,” Stallings said, chuckling. “I’d be divorced if I ran.”