Former Rep. LaRocco to announce his candidacy for Idaho Senate seat

Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho) plans to announce next week that he is running for the seat of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) in 2008, LaRocco told The Hill yesterday.

LaRocco, who served two terms in the House until he was unseated in the 1994 GOP wave, was the last Democrat to serve in the historically Republican state’s congressional delegation. He will try to rebound from an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2006.

LaRocco aims to enter the race formally with an announcement next Wednesday. He is in Washington this week laying the groundwork for a bid, but he said he is not scheduled to meet with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
“I just want to get in there and get this moving and do everything I need to do to win the nomination and the support of the DSCC, and then eventually win the seat,” LaRocco said.

Idaho Democrats have praised LaRocco as one of the party’s leaders over the last few decades. He is expected to be the frontrunner in the state, which is not a top Democratic target.

“He brings a great deal of enthusiasm and experience,” said Richard Stallings, state party chairman and a former congressman who served alongside LaRocco from 1991-92. “He’s a great campaigner — probably the best campaigner we’ve had in this state in a long time.”

LaRocco’s entry into the Senate race means that 2006 congressional candidate Larry Grant (D) will not run for the Senate. Grant said in January that he was thinking about a Senate bid but that he would defer to LaRocco. Yesterday, Grant stuck by that pledge.

Grant, who took 45 percent of the vote in the 2006 open-seat race against now-Rep. Bill Sali (R), said he will run for that seat again “unless something extraordinary changes.”

“That’s where I’ve put my time and effort and energy, so that’s what makes sense for me this next time around,” Grant said. He added that LaRocco should be able to use his statewide experience and Washington contacts to his advantage.

Grant’s near-miss and a relatively strong showing for Democrats in the gubernatorial and local races in 2006 have given the party some hope in a state that has been strongly Republican ever since it achieved statehood.

LaRocco did not come so close to upending a Republican, losing 58-39 to interim Gov. Jim Risch in the 2006 race for lieutenant governor.

Craig, 61, has been the subject of some retirement rumors, and the seat would be much more attractive for Democrats if he were to vacate it.

Craig recently ceded his chairmanship of the Veterans Affairs Committee when the Democrats took control of the Senate.
He also had one of the lowest cash-on-hand totals in the 2008 class after the last cycle, with about $270,000. He spent $3 million on each of his last two victories, including his closest race, when he beat Democrat Walt Minnick 57-40 in 1996.

LaRocco aims to raise $5 million for the race, which would be more than twice as much as Craig’s last two opponents.
Craig also has a primary challenger in illegal-immigration hawk Robert Vasquez.

Stallings said LaRocco likely would be the nominee if Craig remained in the race, but said others would jump in if Craig were to retire.

Craig will announce his intentions this summer.

“He’s confident that people of Idaho recognize he’s still fighting for them and their values in Congress,” Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said.

Craig was first elected to Congress in 1980 and won his Senate seat in 1990.

LaRocco’s announcement could set up a rematch of the 1982 House race, when Craig beat him to win his first reelection bid.
LaRocco won Craig’s House seat when Craig switched chambers, and he successfully defended it once before falling to Republican Helen Chenoweth in 1994.

The last Democrat to represent Idaho in the Senate, longtime Sen. Frank Church, lost reelection in 1980. LaRocco worked for Church early in his career.