With a bevy of state leaders and legislators behind him, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch made official his intentions to run for Sen. Larry Craig's seat next year.
"The bottom line is: I'm in," he said.
Risch, a Republican who has spent more than 30 years in state government, including a seven-month stint as governor, will vie for the seat the embattled Craig now says he will vacate when his term expires in 2009. Risch, 64, has some powerful friends backing him, including Sen. Mike Crapo, who is serving as Risch's campaign co-chairman, and Gov. Butch Otter, who endorsed the lieutenant governor at Risch's news conference across from the Capitol.
Dozens of legislators, lobbyists and other statewide elected leaders also showed up.
Risch said he would emphasize constituent services. He said he wants to have a bipartisan discussion on "how we're going to extricate" U.S. forces from Iraq, though he said he was not ready to set a date for withdrawal. He also expressed skepticism about the AgJobs bill, a guest-worker program Craig had championed to help solve the illegal-immigration problem.
"I believe Idahoans have elected me repeatedly because I represent our views," Risch said.
Until recently, it looked as though Risch might be appointed to the Senate by Otter. Craig, embroiled in legal troubles stemming from a men's room sex sting, at first said he would resign Sept. 30 but later changed his mind. He now says he will finish his term while fighting to overturn his guilty plea for disorderly conduct.
Otter would not say if Risch was his choice, and Risch said Otter never told him.
"The governor did not tell me he would appoint me nor did he even hint that he would appoint me," Risch said.
Risch said he hasn't talked to Craig since Craig's resignation announcement Sept. 1, and he would not comment on effects Craig's reversal might have on his campaign.
"I'm not here to talk about things that I don't have control over," he said.
It's unclear if Risch will face a primary challenger. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who had expressed interest in the seat before Craig changed his mind, has not said whether he'll run. Wasden was in St. Louis Tuesday at a National Association of Attorneys General Meeting and did not immediately return a message left at his office. Wasden, who is the president of the association, was the only state constitutional officer not present at Risch's announcement.
Otter said Risch's commitment to constituent services and familiarity with Idaho issues would help the state.
"He's going to bring to that office the kind of representation that Idaho wants," he said.
Down the road, Risch's likely Democratic opponent, Larry LaRocco, held his own briefing. Outside the Boise Centre on The Grove, LaRocco, who has been campaigning for six months, said he's out to prove a Democrat can win in one of the reddest of states.
A former military intelligence officer, LaRocco said he has an edge on Risch because of his military experience and his two terms as a U.S. congressman. LaRocco said the Craig scandal has given his campaign visibility.
"It's put a microscope on Idaho, and (people have) said, ‘Who is the Democrat running for senator of Idaho?' " he said.
Heath Druzin: 373-6617