3.24.2008

Senate diary: The Craig saga is finally over

Craiggate is finally over. Idaho Senator Larry Craig did not file for reelection by his state's deadline last week, putting an end to speculation that he might attempt to complete one more unlikely comeback. Craig had announced months ago that he would retire next year, but it was hard to fully believe him after the stunning turn-around he pulled in September. We all remember the stunning scandal that erupted at the end of August, when news emerged that Craig had plead guilty to lewd behavior in a men's bathroom.

Despite the disregard for due-process and the difference in the treatment Craig received from his caucus compared to that reserved to Sen. Vitter just months before, the situation did not look good for Craig who announced on September 1st he would resign effective September 30th. It took people a few days (until September 4th) to realize that Craig had said he "intended to resign" rather than he would resign, leaving himself room to not honor his word. But that clever trick allowed Craig to survive, as the media was satisfied with having claimed the Senator's head and Craig survived the storm. Three weeks later, he confirmed people's suspicions and announced he would be staying in the race... an unthinkable development a few weeks earlier. In that context, it would have been entirely in character for Craig to attempt to pull one more surprise and jump in the race for his party's nomination...

With Craig's now certain departure, the November race will oppose former Representative LaRocco, a Democrat, to a Republican nominee (most probably Lieutenant Governor Risch), who will start off favored given the state's very strong GOP bent. LaRocco's only path to victory was that Craig's shadow keeps haunting Idaho Republicans and drags whoever his party's nominee is down with him, and the ideal scenario would have naturally been that Craig attempts a comeback in the polls.

Note that Craig is still not done making news, since he is still trying to withdraw his guilty plea, having appealed the decision of a lower court to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Depending on how big a legal push Craig keeps making, Idaho Democrats can hope to keep Risch in difficulty, but the best scenario the DSCC can probably hope from this race is to force the GOP to play defense and spend resources.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Republicans are still working to find a challenger to Senator Frank Lautenberg who they believe is very vulnerable, due (ironically) to his age. They lost their candidate in early March when real estate developer Anne Estabrook withdrew due to health reasons. Despite the fact that a state Senator is already running, Republicans want to recruit someone who can self-fund a campaign: For the past few cycles, the GOP has been wasting a lot of money in this state (both in senatorial and presidential elections) and getting nowhere once votes are counted in November, however promising polls looked earlier in the fall. It is thus understandable that the NRSC does not want to empty its coffers here but would like still to put the DSCC on the defensive thanks to a self-funder.

The result: a new wealthy candidate, Andrew Uranu, is now ready to jump in the race and contest the nomination to be decided in June. Republicans seem excited, and Democrats don't appear particularly worried. For now, therefore, a typical New Jersey election and, thus like most contests in the state, one to watch closely.

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