Larry Craig

Popkey in D.C.: Ice cream, a press gaggle and some gasps

About a dozen reporters staked out U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's fifth-floor office in the Hart Office building in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.

Among them — Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, who had flown east to attend a conference of the Society of Professional Journalists. When news broke of the judge's decision, Popkey changed into a nicer shirt and headed over.

"The phones were ringing furiously," he said. "They're having to put a lot of callers on hold."

The reporters were in the hallway, Popkey said.

"They've got the TV on (inside Craig's office)," he said. "He's got his Spuddy Buddy (Idaho potato doll) on the credenza when you walk in, and a ceramic potato full of those Idaho pins. There have been a number of Craig people, at least four staffers, who have gone out and come back with vanilla and chocolate swirl soft ice cream. They've been fueled by soft swirl ice cream this afternoon."

When one young staffer walked by, the reporters grilled her. She just smiled and walked on, taking another bite of her ice cream.

Meanwhile, official Senate business continued. One man came to the office with what looked like an official photograph. Another wandered the halls with big canvas bags that said Florida Orange juice.

"I didn't see him stop by Craig's office," Popkey said.

Craig mentioned the value of his seniority in his statement Thursday as a key reason he decided to stay in office for the rest of his term. Some of that value can be seen in the Hart Office Building.

"He's around the corner from (Alaska Sen.) Ted Stevens and across the atrium from (Majority Leader) Harry Reid," Popkey said. "This is really prime office space. A couple of floors down, you can see the 'welcome back Johnson' signs, for Sen. Tim Johnson, who had a stroke."

People visiting their lawmaker's offices have paused to ask what's going on with the crowd. They stop and gasp, and they whisper, "Larry Craig."

The reporters — Popkey included — didn't even know if Craig was in this office, though. Others have staked out Craig's "hideaway" office in the U.S. Capitol. That's the official term for these small congressional spaces lawmakers use when they are between votes. Others are talking about staking out the yacht club where Craig lives when he's working in Washington, D.C.

Popkey has noticed there's a big difference in the way Idahoans view this and the way folks do in the nation's capitol.

"These are people with no stake in what happens," he said. "For them, it's another Britney Spears type of event. It's another celebrity behaving badly. These people don't have the stake that we all do."