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No Blue Allowed In This Red State

Idaho’s political system bleeds red, but a little blue is leaking in.

The GOP dominates the state legislature and its Congressional delegation is entirely Republican. But Democrats gained ground in Boise in 2006.

And now one Democratic candidate is optimistic he can win a U.S. House seat that the GOP has held for 38 of the last 42 years. Coeur d’Alene correspondent Doug Nadvornick reports.

In this campaign ad, Congressional candidate Walt Minnick hits on issues that play well in his conservative North Idaho district.

Announcer voice with piano playing in background: “Stop pork barrel spending by banning earmarks. Cut taxes for middle class families. Walt Minnick, Right for Idaho.”

Minnick has solid Republican credentials. He was the president of Trus Joist, an Idaho forest products company. He was the president of the Young Republican Club in college and even worked for three years in the Nixon Administration. But….

Walt Minnick: “The Republican Party I was a part of…I haven’t changed, the party’s changed.

And so has Minnick’s party affiliation. Although he doesn’t play it up in his ads, there’s now a D after his name.

That’s usually the kiss of death in North Idaho. But at a campaign stop in Moscow, Minnick says he takes after Cecil Andrus.

He was a popular centrist Democrat who was elected governor four times in 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Walt Minnick: “Well, I’m a fiscal conservative, a social moderate and I don’t believe we ought to police the world. I am a conservative Democrat.”

Minnick’s appealing to moderate Republicans who are turned off by the ideological conservatism of his opponent, first-term Congressman Bill Sali.

Sali Ad - Announcer: “Growing up here, Bill Sali learned to keep his word and he took Idaho values to Congress. Sali kept his promise to tackle waste and taxes….”

Sali is not only a fiscal conservative, he’s a social conservative. He’s strongly anti-abortion and pro-gun.

On the day he spoke to us from a park bench outside the U.S. Capitol, Sali had voted to overturn the ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. It’s a vote he says may have some influence in one of the cities in his district.

Bill Sali:  “I know in Moscow, they had some gun control legislation up there that they wanted to run as an ordinance. I think the message is pretty clear that there’s a different direction that the cities in the United States need to follow.”

Sali also has strong views on the U.S. immigration system.

Bill Sali: “We need to secure our borders. We need to do it without granting amnesty. We need to increase interior enforcement.”

Such conservative views have wide appeal to voters in North Idaho.

In fact, Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief says it’s one of the most reliably Republican districts in the nation. But two years ago Sali won with only a bare majority. And, in what is expected to be a year of Democratic gains, Moncrief expects another close race.

Gary Moncrief: “It is being depicted by most political observers around the country as one that still leans Republicans, although most of them aren’t saying it’s a slam dunk Republican at this point.”

Moncrief expects both national political parties and interest groups to pour money to the district to try to influence the race.

But it may not make any difference. Bill Sali is a Republican and that makes him awfully hard to beat in November.

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