Sorensen heading to D.C., as fight for Idaho-1 revs up

State Rep. Sheila Sorensen heads to Washington next week touting an internal poll showing her leading among older voters in the six-candidate GOP primary in Idaho’s 1st District, her campaign manager, Scott Phillips, said yesterday.

State Rep. Sheila Sorensen heads to Washington next week touting an internal poll showing her leading among older voters in the six-candidate GOP primary in Idaho’s 1st District, her campaign manager, Scott Phillips, said yesterday.

Sorensen, who badly trails in fundraising behind state Rep. Bill Sali, refused to release all the data in her poll, which was conducted in late January among 300 voters in the district. It has a margin of error of five to eight percentage points.

According to the survey, Sorensen has the support of 18 percent of voters age 55 or older in the district, which stretches from the Boise suburbs, in the state’s southern tier, to the northern panhandle.

Trailing Sorensen, the survey shows, are Sali, with 16 percent; state Controller Keith Johnson, with 12 percent; Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez, with 13 percent; state Sen. Skip Brandt, with 8 percent; and Norm Semanko, an attorney and former aide to Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (R), with 1 percent.

Nearly one-third of all voters either said they didn’t know whom they would back or refused to answer.

Phillips said the 55-plus contingent is critical because of that group’s high voting propensity.

“Sixty-three percent of all primary voters in Idaho are over 50,” he said. “The senior vote bloc is absolutely critical for winning a primary.”
Sorensen issued a statement yesterday saying she was “pleased with the numbers we’re posting.”

“They show that our message hits home with Idaho’s voters. Idahoans want and demand accountable government that gets back to the basics of lower taxes, less spending and personal responsibility.”

Sorensen’s Washington trip next week comes on the heels of the candidates’ recently released fourth-quarter fundraising reports.

With $134,000 on hand, Sali, who raised $93,000 in the fourth quarter of 2005, is the No. 1 fundraiser. Sorensen has almost $7,700 in the bank; she raised nearly $13,400 last quarter.

Semanko ended the year with $25,260; he garnered the same amount in the fourth quarter. None of the other candidates in the primary has broken the $100,000 total-intake mark.

Sali has portrayed himself as a true-blue conservative in contrast, he says, with his leading rivals. An endorsement from the conservative Club for Growth also gave him a boost.

Sorensen has the endorsement of Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, whose 2nd District borders the 1st. Rep. Butch Otter (R), running for governor, now holds the seat.

Jesseca Sali, Sali’s campaign manager and daughter-in-law, said yesterday that Sali, who has spent more than 15 years in the state Legislature, had a more conservative record than Sorensen when it comes to abortion, gay marriage and taxes, among other issues.

Semanko, meanwhile, retains close ties with Craig: The senator’s wife, Suzanne, is on his campaign. The senator, who has not formally endorsed Semanko, has hosted fundraisers for the candidate at his home in Eagle, Idaho, Semanko said.

“We feel pretty good about our standing in that household,” Semanko said.

Semanko said he would air radio and some television ads before the May 23 primary and is planning to host a fundraiser April 3 in Washington.

Democrats have little hope of picking up the seat. Otter won his third term, in 2004, with 70 percent of the vote. President Bush also received about 70 percent of the vote in the district in both 2000 and 2004.

Micron Technology Vice President Larry Grant is the only Democrat officially in the race. Businessman Cecil Kelly also has been mentioned as a possible Democratic contender.

“Let’s be fully honest, I don’t think anyone has Idaho-1 at the top of their chart,” a Democratic official in Washington said. The official said that if the Republican primary turned out to be exceptionally bloody, and if the national climate turned exceptionally good for Democrats, which many in the party are forecasting, then maybe, just maybe, the Democratic nominee could pull it off.

Kate Bedingfield, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), echoed a common theme among Democrats at a time when scandal has enveloped Washington: Republicans have too many ties to special interests.

“Idaho families are sick and tired of representatives who put the special interests before their interests. They are ready for a new direction and real leadership, not just a lockstep vote for an agenda that values pharmaceutical and energy companies over working families.”