Republican Vaughn Ward has been campaigning for the past 14 months, yet only in the past few weeks has his campaign seemed to unravel before voters' eyes. Ward has been plagued throughout his campaign with problems of authenticity and originality of thought in his campaign messages. His opponent, state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, was a late entrant into the race for the Republican nomination for Congress, and was hurt by his own profession during his campaign. Labrador, who works as an immigration attorney, had to defend his work to potential voters in Idaho's 1st Congressional District as he sought to assure them he is the right man to send to Congress.
During the campaign, Ward had the most work to do to define himself and share with voters what he believes in. He has never served in a publicly-elected office, but did spend numerous years serving the country while in the Marine Corps. During his time in the Marines, Ward spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Following his service, he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Due to his time in the armed forces and the CIA, Ward, who was born in Jerome, hadn't lived in Idaho for more than 15 years prior to the start of his campaign 14 months ago.
For Ward during the past several weeks, it's been a tale of mistake after mistake that have cost him dearly. A poll released two weeks ago showed Ward with a commanding 34-16 lead over Labrador, though more than 50 percent of respondents remained undecided. A new poll released over the weekend showed that Ward is still in the lead in the race, but only holds a 31-28 advantage, a percentage which is within the poll’s margin of error. Media outlets around the state are calling the match a "statistical dead heat.”
The campaign for Ward has appeared sloppy and unorganized in prior weeks. Local media outlets reported, in the span of a month, about Ward's failure to vote in 2008's general election, despite working for Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, in Nevada; Ward's cribbing of policy positions from websites of sitting congressmen; his borrowing of campaign rhetoric from President Barack Obama; and a revelation that Ward's wife works for Fannie Mae, a government-supported lending agency. Ward also raised a stir at a debate in Post Falls last week when he referred to Puerto Rico as a foreign nation, a comment which has made national headlines. A YouTube video of the comment has received more than 10,000 views in six days.
Labrador has not run a perfect campaign, either. For a period of about a month in March and April, his campaign went almost silent. It was rumored that he and his campaign manager parted ways, but Labrador would not confirm that. It was not until he brought in blogger Dennis Mansfield to serve as his press secretary did his campaign revive itself. From then on, Labrador worked to define himself, though because of his four years of service in the Idaho State Legislature, he may have had an easier job showing what he stands for than Ward. Labrador's campaign was hampered by weak fundraising numbers due, in part, to his late entry into the race, as well as the amount of time required to serve as a state lawmaker. He took heat from his opponent for missing two days of the legislative session to campaign in north Idaho, for which he apologized and took full responsibility.
Ward and Labrador disagree on very little when it comes to actual policy positions. Both men are against amnesty in all forms and believe that Congress must work to provide a solution to immigration problems. They both support repeal of federal health care reforms and removing restrictions that prohibit consumers from buying health insurance across state lines. Both believe in lower taxes and less government spending.
There are differences, however. Labrador does not believe in term limits because he believes they could ultimately hurt Idaho's chances of getting a congressman into House leadership. Ward believes six terms for congressmen and two terms for senators is enough. Labrador supports the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which gives the people the right to choose U.S. Senators. Ward initially supported repeal at a debate in Eagle, but has since said that he would rather amend the amendment to include the term limits.
Whichever man wins this divisive contest will face Democratic incumbent Walt Minnick in November's general election. Ward has said that if he loses, he will throw his support behind Labrador. Labrador would not say whether he would support Ward if he wins Tuesday.