Capitol & State

Mitchell on Risch: 'Idaho can't afford a senator who thinks the job is easy'

Democratic Nels Mitchell is using a column I wrote in May 2013 to make the case that Republican Sen. Jim Risch "sees the U.S. Senate as a place to relax, a perch from which to watch dysfunction and gridlock."

"Idaho can't afford a senator who thinks the job is easy," Mitchell says in the ad, which cost $1,200. "Our country needs a working senate, and Idaho needs a working senator. Unlike Jim Risch, I won't simply be a senator from Idaho; I will be a senator for Idaho."

Mitchell's ad reproduces excerpts from my May 6, 2013 column. When Mitchell announced for the job in January, he mentioned the article to me as evidence of Risch's vulnerability despite the GOP's strength.

Risch spoke volubly during a meeting with the Statesman editorial board about how much he loves the Washington social scene, his work on the Foreign Relations Committee and the collegiality of the Senate despite the institution's "dysfunction." He also said the job was a breeze compared to his seven-month stint as governor in 2006.

Mitchell puts Risch's reply to a criticism that the Senate takes too much time off in a cartoon bubble, with an image of an exasperated Risch: "There's nothing happening when we're back there and there's nothing happening where we're not back there. What's the difference?"

Mitchell's campaign manager, Betty Richardson, said Tuesday that Risch's comments have "staying power....So, we think more people should see it."

The ad also ran in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in June and the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello early in July.

Risch campaign spokesman Jason Risch declined comment.

It's an odd feeling to see a candidate so prominently employ my work as a campaign tool. But Mitchell's excerpting of the article is accurate.

At the time, I raised the prospect of Risch risking the impression he's "lost touch with Idaho" — a view that is often central to the defeat of incumbents.

"Risch's conservative voting record may inoculate him from such a malady," I wrote. "But to hear him wax eloquent about life in the Senate makes one wonder if he risks being branded as a dilettante."

Risch is among six senators with a 99 percent likelihood of re-election, according to a March prediction by ESPN's Nate Silver. But Mitchell seems to believe Risch's contentment with an unpopular institution and the infuriating ways of Washington give him a meaningful opening.