Larry Grant 

Larry Grant's sudden departure in April from the race for the First Congressional District seat caught many—including his own Democratic party—off guard.

It was his second run for the office, and Grant hoped the momentum from his 2006 bid would carry him to victory.

This time around, though, Grant, 62, faced weighty competition for the Democratic nomination from Boise businessman Walt Minnick. The Idaho native sat down with BW to talk politics.

Why did you run in 2006?

I probably shouldn't say this, but nobody else stepped forward. I talked to probably every potential Democratic candidate, trying to recruit someone who would take on the race.

The problem that we had was simply the fact that everyone at that time felt that Sheila Sorensen was going to be the Republican candidate, and that no Democrat could beat her. And so nobody wanted to run, and nobody wanted to take the time and the energy and the money that it takes to actually run a congressional race.

Was being a candidate what you expected?

There are a couple of pretty serious differences [from campaign work] when you become a candidate, primarily, because you have to define yourself in ways that you've never had to define yourself before.

First of all, voters are entitled to a certain consistency. When you're not a candidate, you and I can sit and have an argument and talk about all kinds of things, and I can be the devil's advocate.

But when you're the candidate, people expect you to be knowledgeable about the issues. They expect you to have solutions for problems. They expect you to be straightforward in your answers. And I strongly believe that most of the electorate knows when you're not telling the truth and have a sense if you're not genuine, and so that's the first part about it. You really have to think about the issues and what you actually believe in when you answer those questions. And folks aren't going to let you off the hook.

The second problem, and probably the biggest difference, is that I really think that the people who were supposed to know how to win had forgotten how to win, at least on the Democratic side.

Why a second run?

One of the problems Democrats have is that people only run once, and when you have to start from scratch, literally.

And it takes twice to really put together the organization that you need, especially if you're not just hiring people to do it. If you're going to work with the local county parties and you're going to work with folks on the ground, mostly volunteers, it's more trouble. It's more difficult than just hiring somebody to go out and make telephone calls.

But that, to me, is the only way you're going to build an organization that's going to survive.

Why did you drop out?

I think that I would have won the primary. The worst possible scenario I could see, however, was to win the primary and lose the general.

We could have spent, at that time the next six weeks, battling each other and probably spending another $300,000 to $400,000 on that part of the race to get votes that we're going to get in the general anyways.

So, I look at that and simply say, "Look, frankly, if I win the primary, there's some folks in Boise that aren't going to support me, the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] was not going to fall in behind me, and Cecil Andrus was supporting Walt, and I don't know whether Cecil would have come back in my camp." So the question was, could I get not just the voters, but the powers that be, so to speak, to coalesce behind me? And if they wouldn't, it would have been very difficult to win the general.

So, I looked at that and said, "It's much easier for me to give my organization to Walt than it is for him to deliver his people to me."

I basically had the organization on the ground, he basically had Boise and Washington, D.C., behind him. So when you look at the marriage, how do you enhance your chances, you want to bring all those groups together. If we would have continued on, we would have divided the Idaho Democratic Party, I think, so badly that it wouldn't have been able to be repaired. This way, I think we've increased our chances of winning.

Was it a blow to your campaign when Andrus supported Minnick?

Well, you're never happy when something like that happens, but you have to remember that Walt and Cecil have been friends for a long, long time and it [would have been] very difficult for Cecil not to support Walt.

Were you pressured by party leadership?

No. Nobody expected it, I think, and I didn't talk to anybody.

What has been the reaction since you left?

There are a lot of disappointed people. A lot of folks think I should have just kept going. Those are the idealists. Those are the people who believe like I do that you have to build the party from the ground up, you have to spend the time out in the field. You can't run the party from Boise. You can't always listen to Washington, D.C.

Idealists would sometimes rather lose and maintain their ideals than win a seat. But ideals are fine, but it depends on what you're fighting over and where you draw the line.

Are you happy with where the party is?

No. The challenge for the Democratic Party in Idaho is really two-fold.

Their first challenge is to build on that organization and make sure we don't go back to the style of Democrats who run once, hire consultants, and when they lose, they go off and the organization goes away.

The second challenge for the state party is to capture those folks that [Barack] Obama has brought in. How do you get them engaged? How do you let them know that they are appreciated? How do you keep that grass roots movement going to where those folks become involved in the political process beyond just their candidate of choice?

Will you run again?

It depends on what happens. What I really want to do is get some younger folks [to run]. We need some 40-year-old people, men, women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian. It's probably not an accident that the three candidates in the Democratic primary were 60-ish-year-old white guys.

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