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Untested Democrat steps into congressional race

Dan Popkey
March 15, 2006
Idaho Statesman

Supporters were holding their breath Tuesday as Larry Grant made his debut in the race to fill Idaho's open 1st Congressional District seat.

Grant is an untested candidate, but with Republicans in Congress under fire and a six-way catfight for the GOP nomination, Democrats have a shot at the seat being left by Rep. Butch Otter.

They don't want to blow it.

Grant gave a solid 'B' performance in his formal announcement at the Capitol. He struck traditional Idaho Democratic themes — good jobs, education, access to health care, conservation, fiscal responsibility. He also seized on the gifts handed the Democrats by a reeling national Republican Party.

"I would like to be able to stand here today and talk about jobs and education and health care," Grant said. "But the fact of the matter is there are other things on the agenda that are taking precedence. We have a crisis in this country, and to me, it's a crisis of leadership."

Grant critiqued the GOP's stewardship of an $8 trillion budget deficit, ethical lapses in Congress, chaos in Iraq and incompetence in the wake of Katrina.

"America deserves better," said Grant, whose supporters carried brooms as props. "That's my cleanup crew. We're going to clean house. We're going to send a message to Congress."

Grant's speech-making is calmer than his words read on paper. Competence is his strength. Raised in Fruitland, his dad worked for Union Pacific for 42 years. He lives a mile from his boyhood home and has a local-kid-made-good story: He went to Columbia on a scholarship, got his law degree at the University of Denver, practiced in Colorado and Idaho. In 1985, he became Micron Technology's first general counsel and a vice president.

He was at Micron for 10 years, then worked in Silicon Valley. He speaks the language of high-tech Idaho. He also knows campaign nuts and bolts, having been the campaign treasurer for ex-Rep. Larry LaRocco, the last Democrat to hold the 1st District seat that runs from Cole Road in Boise west to Oregon and north to Canada.

"This is different because all of my experience has been in the back room, either getting out the vote or raising money," Grant said after his speech. "Now, you get on the other side of the microphone and what you say makes a difference."

Betty Sims, who worked with Grant at Micron, acknowledged some nervousness before the speech. "He's new, so charisma is going to be an issue."

After his talk, Democrats were relieved. "He did fine," said Gail Bray, the party's national committeewoman. "And look at his record: What we need is smarts and integrity, and he's got both."

It helped that Grant was introduced by Idaho's Democratic icon, former four-term Gov. Cecil Andrus.

Andrus was jazzed, talking about issues, a climate for change, Grant's qualities. He had energy — and passed it on to the crowd.

Andrus said he and Grant are simpatico on conservation issues and noted Grant will fight GOP proposals to sell public land in Idaho. Then Andrus, a man who made much of his success as a sportsman, delivered the punchline. "Larry admits he's not a very good shot, but he does know the difference between a quail and a lawyer in an orange vest."

The audience roared. Having endured a decade of anti-Clinton jokes, Idaho Democrats are having fun.

"The stars are aligned," said Andrus, who knows how hard it is for Democrats to win here. He likened 2006 to 1970, when he beat GOP Gov. Don Samuelson.

"I had a legion of Republicans for Andrus," he said. "You're going to see that same thing happen this year in many of these races."

But Grant said he takes no comfort in having benefited from a spate of bad news since he decided in June to make the race. "I'm not happy about the headlines, OK? The war, the economy, the corruption. Sure, people are going to stand up and vote for change, but these are not good things for our country."

He closed his speech by reminding listeners of America's unique position in the world after the fall of the Soviet Union. "We had an opportunity to do more good than any other nation in history to make this world a better place. We are in the process of squandering that opportunity. And that's the failure of leadership that's most important to me."

Grant's modest demeanor and lack of packaging may have special appeal in troubled times. This year, voters may be drawn to a candidate who believes government can be more than a nuisance.

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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