What is it with Bill Sali?
Here at the Swing State Project, we've followed his career closely ever since he first ran for Congress last cycle. Sali caught our attention with his extraordinary primary victory in 2006, chalking up a victory with an astounding 26% of the vote - this despite a major infusion of support from the Club for Growth. We thought we might have a real live one on our hands, a real nutter nobody liked. But just how disliked was he?
As it turns out, a whole hell of a lot. The Republican Speaker of the Idaho House said of Sali:
"That idiot is just an absolute idiot. He doesn't have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body. And you can put that in the paper."
The second-place finisher in the primary:
Today, in the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, second-place finisher Robert Vasquez, a Canyon County commissioner, said he'd never vote for GOP primary victor Bill Sali because, "I would not and do not and cannot endorse a liar for Congress."
Idaho's other representative, Mike Simpson:
Simpson then told Sali: "If you want to debate this, I'll put the House at ease and we can go back into my office and I'll throw you out the window."
Simpson & Sali's fellow legislators:
Simpson said he was irritated but had no intention of assaulting Sali. He added, however, that as House colleagues heard the story, many told him, "The third floor wasn't high enough. You should have taken him up to the fourth floor."
The man Sali sought to replace, now-Gov. Butch Otter:
"Bruce has been a great speaker of the House," Otter said. "And as he told me, he learned everything that he knows from Mike Simpson. And that is why every time he has a bad day, he goes and beats the hell out of Bill Sali."
And Bill Sali himself:
And that's just his own party. The maniacs at the Club for Growth had to bail Sali out yet again in the general, and even Dick Cheney spent some time hustling for dollars and votes in this district, which gave fully 70% of its vote to George Bush. In the end, Sali won just 50-45 over a Democrat he out-spent by 50%.
The amazing thing is that the fun never stopped with Bill Sali. Sometimes, serious screwups who manage to fail upward to the United States House of Representatives just learn to shut up and keep a low profile. Not Sali - he's way too colossal for that.
Six months into his term, Sali's approval rating stood at an impressive 29-46. Things clearly hadn't changed much a year later, when he squeaked through a primary against a guy who raised just $70K with only 57% of the vote. (I guess compared to his first primary, that looked downright awesome.)
He managed to continue his winning ways by supporting an insurgent challenge to Gov. Otter's preferred state party chair. Meanwhile, he stopped paying his consultant's bills, carrying a debt of $76,000 - no small sum in Idaho, and a dangerous fuck-you to other campaign vendors in such a tightly-knit political community.
It gets better. John Boehner, doubtless gritting his teeth, helped defile the English language like a good Inner Party member by adding Sali to the "Regain Our Majority Program." Yes, I know, you can't regain the majority by buttressing incumbents, but maybe Boehner just didn't feel like printing up different stationery.
Sali repaid the gesture with classic brain fade accuity. When the time came to file second-quarter fundraising reports, his finance staff declared that the dog ate their laptop. James Hell made this fine .TXT catch:
I am unable to file the 2nd quarter 2008 FEC report, as FEC technical support is still attempting to fix the Sali for Congress data file. I first attempted to upload a file to the FEC site on June 6. I again tried on June 9, using the new FEC software update, without success. I then sent FEC technical support a copy of the Sali for Congress FEC file. FEC technical support is still attempting to fix the file so that it may be uploaded. I am in regular contact with FEC technical support and the FEC analyst, in an effort to resolve this matter.
It took these clowns twenty-six days to figure out how to file their report (the law gives you 15), and even then it was still a shambles - just like the rest of Sali's campaign. He opened an office in - I kid you not - the wrong congressional district (Idaho's only got two). But the best was announced just recently: as a cornerstone of his fundraising plan, Bill Sali plans to hold yard sales to fill his campaign coffers. No word yet if Plan B is to rummage through the county dump for some discarded treasures - but I think we can assume that's probably on the list.
Meanwhile, Sali has drawn some very high-quality opposition in the form of businessman Walt Minnick. Minnick has consolidated support throughout Idaho and has also outraised Sali by a considerable margin - over $350K.
He's impressed the DCCC, too - not only have they added him to the Red to Blue program, they've reserved $350K in ad time in the district, which will go along way in this cheap media market. Panicked, the NRCC responded with a $500K reservation, but will they really be able to afford to spend the full amount? And you just know Tom Cole is grimacing at the thought of having to shell out cash to save this jerkwad's sorry ass.
SSP has long felt that, in the rubric we use, an upset could not be ruled out in this seat, just thanks to Sali's poor political skills. But he's managed to make things a whole lot worse in his brief time in office. He really is the perfect fuckup. Combined with a top-notch Democratic candidate who has run a flawless campaign, polling showing a competitive contest, and an environment which (even post-Palin) is still hostile for Republican incumbents, we feel compelled to upgrade this race to "Lean Republican". For an R+19 seat, it's not a decision we undertake lightly, but it's a decision we feel is supported by all the available evidence, and one we're comfortable making.
You can find the Swing State Project's complete list of ratings for competitive House races here.