Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is accustomed to getting questions from the media. But there are a couple of ground rules that he is exercising these days.
The first rule is, don’t ask him if it is appropriate for a president (in this case, Donald Trump) to ask assistance from a foreign government to investigate a political opponent (specifically, former Vice President Joe Biden). A reporter posed that question recently at a business roundtable in Nampa, and Risch walked out of the room.
The second rule is, don’t expect Risch to say if the president is making the right call on his controversial policy toward Syria – or any other foreign policy matter. The senator will say that the country does not benefit by him second-guessing the president.
These ground rules don’t sit well with the media, but through his long career, Risch has never been too worried about what reporters or commentators think. He’s more concerned about holding onto what appears to be one of the nation’s safest senatorial seats.
Three little-known Democrats are vying for Risch’s job – Nancy Harris, a Boise political activist; Travis Oler, a Shelley potato farmer and an Army veteran; and James Vandermaas of Eagle, who ran for Congress last year and lost in the primary election. About the only way he could mess it up for himself is to make any kind of negative comment about the president. Risch’s Republican base loves Trump, and often hates the media.
Risch isn’t the only one dodging tough questions from reporters. According to CNN, GOP senators are in a tough spot: “They don’t want to anger Trump or his supporters by raising concerns with what the president said was a ‘perfect’ call with the Ukrainian president, but they also don’t want to condone his actions as more voters believe they are worthy of an impeachment inquiry.”
Well … maybe most Idaho voters give credence to the impeachment inquiry, but you get the picture. “No comment” is a safe position for Risch when it comes to questions about Trump.
Risch expects the campaign to be a mirror image of the presidential election, though on a much smaller scale.
“Overall, Idaho will be where America is,” Risch says. “Do they want to accept socialism? There are people running to lead this country who are flat-out socialists and admit they are socialists. I’ve been elected to this office twice and I’ve cast thousands of votes for Idaho. There’s no surprise where I’m coming from. I don’t bounce back and forth on one side of the fence or the other.”
He said in his re-election announcement, “With the rise of far-left socialist agendas in Congress, I consider it my duty to continue to stand up for conservative common-sense, Idaho solutions to America’s problems.”
He pledges to continue fighting for lower taxes, a less-intrusive government, growth of small businesses, affordable health care and “protecting the rights of Idahoans and rural America.”
Risch says his campaign has been aggressively raising money and he’s prepared to spend a lofty amount – if necessary.
“Our management at this point is in-house, until we believe we need more horsepower. We’re doing some things in the initial stage, but we’re certainly not in the execution stage,” he said. “Of all elections we’ve had, we’ve seen real challenges, minimal challenges and everything in between. We have never taken this for granted. A public official’s seat does not belong to the officeholder; it belongs to the people they represent.”
Risch and his wife, Vicki, have been married 51 years, which is an impressive accomplishment in a world where politics and marriages don’t always mix.
“Actually, we have been married longer,” Risch says with a wry smile. “She measures elections in dog years.”
That would put Risch’s dog-year age somewhere around 300, since he has been running for political offices for most of his adult life. In “real time,” Risch is a spry 76-year-old with boundless energy – and an insatiable appetite for national politics and the pressures that go with it. Barring a major upset next year, Risch may be around for at least another “dog” year or two in the future.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at email@example.com.