Republican Raul Labrador has made his name in Congress as a rank-breaking Tea Party favorite. But his underfunded and barely known Democratic opponent, Jimmy Farris, is hoping people will look at Labrador’s attendance record alongside his voting record.
Trekking up and down the state’s giant 1st District — which encompasses all of North Idaho and the western half of southern Idaho — Farris continues to slam Labrador for missing twice as many votes as the average lawmaker since being elected in 2010.
But between fundraising for his own re-election and working to woo Latinos for Mitt Romney, Labrador hasn’t spent much time refuting Farris’ claims. Part of the 2010 Tea Party sweep, Labrador, a Puerto Rican-born former immigration lawyer, was elected on promises of balancing the budget, and he’s focused on those in office, too.
Last fall, he pushed for the first House vote on a balanced budget amendment since 1995. It failed to pass. Before that, he joined another freshman from Kansas to fight a Republican-backed bill to give $5 billion in subsidies to trucking companies, vehicle manufacturers and fueling stations to help promote a switch from petroleum-based fuels to natural gas for transportation.
“We came to Washington to change the way business was done,” Labrador, 44, told Meet the Press during last year’s debt ceiling debacle. He’s repeatedly called the national debt “the greatest threat to our national security.”
Labrador’s campaign said he wasn’t available for an interview by press time.
Long-shot candidate Farris is pinning his hopes on Idahoans’ disappointment with the least popular Congress in history.
“I’m getting a lot of Republicans that approach me and say they’re not happy with the direction the party is being taken by the far, far right,” Farris says. “I’ve found a lot of buyers’ remorse in areas up north for the guy they elected last time.”
The 34-year-old Lewiston native and former NFL player has no legislative experience and didn’t vote until 2008, but he’s playing up his hometown-boy status. He says Idaho voters want someone who hasn’t been “corrupted by politics.”
Farris says jobs are his first priority and he supports the “Simpson-Bowles Plan,” shorthand for a proposal from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to free up more federal money for job creation. The plan suggested cutting back on defense and the federal workforce, raising the retirement age for Social Security and raising revenue through a gas tax and reduced tax credits, corporate tax rates and subsidies. (The commission was bipartisan, but it hasn’t bred any compromise. Tax hikes are a no-go for many Republicans, and Democrats say proposed cuts to Social Security are too deep.)
Despite voter discontent, Farris’ chances of overcoming Labrador are still slim, says Justin Vaughn, a political science professor at Boise State University. In the May primary Labrador took more than 10 times as many votes as Farris. After the last reporting cycle this summer, Labrador had about $203,000 cash on hand to Farris’ $8,000.
“Even in a time like right now where, as Americans, we loathe Congress doesn’t mean Republicans are going to become Democrats and liberals are going to become conservatives,” Vaughn says. “No matter how much we hate Congress, that doesn’t change the partisan composition of a district.”