The Idaho congressional race that had been defying national trends seems to be finally conforming. A new Mason-Dixon poll sponsored by seven Idaho newspapers shows conservative Republican challenger Raul Labrador pulling into a statistical dead heat with incumbent Blue Dog Democrat Walt Minnick. The poll has Minnick leading Labrador 44 to 41 percent, a seven point tightening
since the last Mason-Dixon survey in mid-September.
The poll spells out explicitly what many insiders have been saying about this race for months -- regardless of Minnick's wide leads in fundraising and name recognition, the freshman Democrat is an endangered incumbent in one of the most conservative districts in the country.
"It didn't surprise me," said Stephen Shaw, professor of political science at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.
The Minnick campaign sounded an unfazed note. "We knew it was always going to be tight and always going to be close," said campaign spokesman John Foster. But Foster remained upbeat and added that, despite the many factors working against Minnick, Labrador has peaked at 41 percent.
"In one of the most Republican-favored elections in U.S. history, in one of the most Republican districts in the country, Labrador is still having a hard time pulling Republican support," Foster said.
As a state legislator, Labrador has been a staunch social, fiscal and governmental conservative. In March, he was instrumental
in blocking a law to ban texting-while-driving, calling it "feel-good legislation." Currently, 30 states have laws that ban text messaging while driving.
For Labrador, the poll provides the momentum for a possible fourth-quarter comeback. On Tuesday, Real Clear Politics reassessed Idaho's 1st Congressional District as a "toss-up
." Labrador is staying consistent on a message that ties Minnick to the liberal spending policies of the recent Congress.
"Idaho voters are hurting right now because of the policies of Walt Minnick and Nancy Pelosi. They have run our economy into the ditch and voters are saying enough is enough," Labrador said in a written statement.
Shaw attributed the narrowing gap, in part, to mob psychology. The media has cemented the idea that the Republicans will take over the House, Shaw said, and "some of that psychological shift is bleeding over into this race, giving Labrador some momentum."
Labrador's good news had to vie for attention Tuesday with another advertising controversy, the second in a row
for the Republican challenger. A television ad paid for by SuperPAC of America (run by GOP consultant and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, Dick Morris) attacked Minnick for voting for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus). In fact, Minnick was one of just 11 Democrats to vote against the bill.
The Minnick campaign cried foul.
"It's disappointing that Labrador and his allies have realized that the only way they can win is to lie and cheat," Foster said. By Tuesday afternoon, both the NBC and ABC affiliates in Boise had pulled the ad from the air (it disappeared from YouTube as well).
With less than a week remaining, the outcome of this race will likely hinge on each campaign's voter mobilization effort. Foster claims that Minnick is running "the largest field program in Idaho Democratic Party history." Labrador is boasting that with "over 1,300 volunteers the campaign has knocked on thousands of doors and has made over 150,000 telephone calls to registered voters in the district."
The two candidates will meet for a final public forum in Boise on Thursday.