The Fun in Cd1 

The characters are in place for the race for Bill Sali's seat

There's a reason it's called political theater.

The First District Congressional race alone has boasted a cast of characters offering enough drama, pontificating, entrances and exits to make it an outright melodrama.

No other Idaho race has offered such a diverse cast. Four candidates are vying for the public's heart, each one trying to play a role, be it the experienced leader, the plucky challenger or the returning hero, come to save the day.

Once there were five, but North Idaho businessman Rand Lewis has already bowed out, leaving incumbent Rep. Bill Sali and newcomer Matt Salisbury on the Republican side of the stage, and Democrats Walt Minnick and Larry Grant entering from stage left.

While some in the public see the upcoming May primary elections as little more than a dress rehearsal for the November general elections, it's the real thing for the candidates, each of whom is fighting to stand out from the chorus.

For the casual political observer, it's sometimes hard to keep track of those fighting for the spotlight. Each one expounds his credentials in an all-out bid for top billing while making his opponents out to be the fools or the villains in the story—in some cases, both.

So what's a voter to believe? Here's BW's pre-show program.

Rep. Bill Sali: Republican

His talking points: Sali managed to best a packed field of Republicans in his last primary race, then defeated Democratic candidate Larry Grant 50 percent to 45 percent. With a year under his belt, Sali is playing the part of the experienced leader who wants to return to Congress for a second term.

Sali leans heavily on his reputation as a conservative's conservative. He's pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage and anti-illegal immigration—all the hot topics for today's most right-wing voters.

What he doesn't want You to know: Sali's critics have picked him apart for being ineffective in Congress and doing little more than casting symbolic dissenting votes that make headlines for their absurdity. Sali was ranked 423 of 435 Congressional representatives in terms of effectiveness in the House in a recent poll released by Knowlegis, a private company based in Washington, D.C.

He's also had trouble raising money; he still owes more than $165,000 from his last campaign.

The vast majority of Sali's contributions in this campaign, 77 percent, have come from political action committees, including (our favorite) Every Republican is Crucial, ExxonMobil, The Freedom Project and the Republican National Coalition for Life, according to the Federal Elections Commission. An additional 22 percent of funds have come from individual donors.

WHO LOVES YA: Vice President Dick Cheney. High-powered state lobbyist Ken Burgess from Veritas Advisors (known as the money guy for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig) has just signed on to help raise money.

Matt Salisbury: Republican

His talking points: Salisbury is representing himself as the Everyman challenger, fighting to bring honor back to a corrupt system. The 34-year-old Nampa resident is focusing on his military service, including his status as a former Army Airborne Ranger with a tour in Iraq under his belt.

Salisbury is a social conservative who shares many stances with Sali on issues like abortion and gay marriage, but he wants voters to see him as a leader who will actually get things accomplished.

What he doesn't want YOU to know: Salisbury has never held elected office. His political experience is limited to involvement with the Canyon County Republican Party, including stints as precinct chairman, District 13 chairman and the august title of Canyon County Central Committee Executive Board finance chairman.

He's way behind in the financial race as well, raising just more than $20,000 in the first quarter of fundraising. According to the FEC, 100 percent of his reported donations have come from individual donors.

Who loves ya: Salisbury is part of a national network of war vets running for Congress, linked up at

Larry Grant­: Democrat

His Talking points: In this election, like the last, Grant is playing the hard-nosed businessman who will bring accountability back to government. His prime target is Sali, rather than his Democratic competition, Minnick.

Grant relies on his business background as both a lawyer and former vice president and general counsel of Micron as the selling point in his campaign.

His rallying call is health-care reform, and he blames the rising cost of insurance for breaking the system and businesses with it. He also takes all politicians to task for allowing partisan politics to worsen the situation in Iraq.

What he doesn't want YOU to know: Grant is running the same campaign he did last time he ran against Sali, with many of the same people in key positions. But unlike last time, he's lost the support of key Democratic leaders like former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who endorsed Minnick this time around.

Additionally, he's never held public office and is far behind Minnick in the fund-raising race.

Grant raised $65,000 in the first quarter of the campaign, according to the FEC. The majority of his money has come from private donations, 61 percent. He's received roughly 14 percent of his funds from PACs, and donated roughly $11,000, himself.

WHO LOVES YA: Former candidate Rand Lewis; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; The United Transportation Union.

Walt Minnick: Democrat

His Talking points: This time around, Minnick is taking on the role of the returning hero, who promises to bring common sense back to government. Since announcing his run, Minnick has boasted a broad support base, including many moderate Republicans who like his business-like approach to problems.

He managed to raise more money than any of the other candidates, raking in more than $410,000 in the first quarter, according to the FEC.

Minnick bills himself as a "gun-owning outdoorsman," who served in the Army during the Vietnam War and spent four years working in the White House in the Nixon administration as the deputy assistant director in the Office of Management and Budget.

Like Grant, Minnick is playing up his private business experience, including his time as the chief executive officer of Trus-Joist International, and as co-founder and CEO of SummerWinds Garden Center.

Minnick is focusing his campaign on the idea of bipartisanship—finding common ground to end the war in Iraq and deal with the health-care crisis.

What he doesn't want you to know: The majority of Minnick's donations come from out-of-state donors. Private donors make up 71 percent of his total take, but many of the largest donations are from supporters outside Idaho, according to FEC reports.

He's also contributed more than $100,000 of his own money to his campaign, and earned an additional $12,500 from PACs.

Minnick has also never held an elected office.

who loves ya: Former Gov. Cecil Andrus; former state senator Mary Lou Reed.

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